She Knew My Intentions

The Sumner Brothers

I’m a headin’ out to the west, son
I got some tending got to do there
Tell your brothers, tell your sisters
Tell ‘em take care

The Sumner Brothers – Going Out West

A Beat Up Ford and a Jug of Wine

EMMYLOU HARRIS

Blossoms in the apple trees,
Full of birds and buzzing bees
It’s summertime.

The Bootleggers, featuring Emmylou Harris – Cosmonaut

 

The Way I’m Livin’, It’s Gonna Cause My Heart to Ache

deepdarkwoods

The wayward son
He never gets nothing done
If I had some money, I’d be on the run
But all the money I had is gone
All the money I had is gone.

The Deep Dark Woods

Sonos: For Those Who Want (Their Audio System) to Rock

sonos

I’ve been reading and hearing about Sonos for a long time.  For much of this time, I have resisted taking the plunge, because I thought I could manage and listen to my music via my Mac, and because Sonos equipment is expensive.  But the more I heard and read, the more my excuses and counter-arguments starting to sound like the stubborn rationalizations of Mac-resistant Windows users.  But as we know, when it comes to good tech, resistance is futile.  So the idea of a Sonos system found a place in my contemplation, and began to slowly grow.

The death of an inexpensive Woot-purchased soundbar I have been using had me thinking about a more robust replacement, and when Sonos announced this week that a separate wireless network (via a wired connection to your router) is no longer required (it is never a good idea to have two competing wireless networks in one location), I took the plunge.  I bought a Sonos Playbar  and two Sonos Play:1’s from Amazon.  After 30 minutes with the Play:1, I knew I was onto something good, and purchased a Play:5 to serve as my primary audio system.

Yes, Sonos equipment is expensive.  No argument in the world is going to make it sound like a bargain.  When you consider how robust and elegant the hardware and associated software is, and when you realize that going all-in on Sonos equipment renders you free of some legacy audio equipment (receivers, amplifiers, CD players, speaker wire, MP3 players, etc.),  the price seems a little less insane.  A little.

So here’s a summary of my Sonos experience so far.

First, the hardware is powerful, well-built and beautiful.   Very Apple-like.  Setup is easy (basically, you turn on your first device, open the Sonos app on your iOS device, connect it to your existing wireless network, and follow the instructions).  Adding additional devices is even easier.  You can listen to devices individually in full-stereo pairs or in large groups (e.g., whole house), and you can easily manage devices throughout your house.  You can play what you want, when and where you want.

And if you want, there are devices that will integrate your existing audio system into your Sonos setup (though I have not tried them).

While I am still in the infancy of my Sonos experience, the sound quality is very impressive.  Wirecutter, maybe the most reliable online source for gadget testing and reviews, chose Sonos as the best whole-home audio system:

Sonos is flexible, easy to use, integrates into your current system and works with a huge array of services and content providers. It has been around since 2004, and that time has let the company build up its product to be better than anyone else’s. It also sounds fantastic.

Eventually, I intend to have a system of paired devices for a full-stereo set up.  However, listening to a single Play:5 (as I am doing now for most of my music) sounds excellent.  In fact, the single Play:1 I’m using in my downtown office sounds great.

Second, the associated software is intuitive and robust.  Initially, I managed all of my Sonos activity via the Sonos app on my iPhone.

sonosiphone

Eventually, I downloaded the Sonos controller for my Mac (there’s a Windows version too), and found it to be another great way to manage my Sonos system when sitting at my desk.

There are tons of integrated music choices.  I immediately added Spotify (my primary music source; that link is to my curated Rancho Radio, try it), Amazon Cloud Player, Google Play Music and Pandora.  There are numerous other choices as well.  An added bonus is the integration of a virtually infinite number of terrestrial and online radio stations.  I quickly added NPR, WNCW and, amazingly, WCRE, the local radio station in the small town where I grew up.

One of the questions I had when considering Sonos was the ability to have and manage systems at different locations.  Happily, Sonos permits this, and switching between setups at various locations happens automatically, based on your location.  I have a system at home, I will sometimes take my Play:5 to and from the farm, and, at least temporarily, I’m using a Play:1 in my downtown office.  It’s pretty awesome.

One of the unexpected benefits of my Sonos experience is that I find myself listening to music a lot more than I did previously.  Before, I had to stop what I was doing on my Mac or iOS device, open the Spotify app, charge, find and connect to a speaker (if listening via my iPhone)  and start listening to music that would play in lieu of the audio component of whatever else I was doing on my computer or iPhone.  Since I’ve begun using Sonos, I often have music playing wherever I am, with only the volume to change depending on where I am and what I’m doing.

sonosiphone2

No review would be complete without a wish list of additional features, but I had to dig pretty deep to come up with one for Sonos.  I wish the Play:5 (which has a line input) would accept Bluetooth connections.  It would be awesome if you could access and play your music from more places in the cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.).  And I wish your Sonos playlists would sync across locations (e.g., I wish a Sonos playlist I create at home on my home system would be available via the Sonos app on my iPhone at the office or farm, at least for non-local music).  There may be a way to do this, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

While Sonos has dispensed with a wired-connection requirement for most setups, you still have to attach a Sonos device (a player or an available Sonos bridge) directly to your router to set up surround sound for your television via the Playbar and a Sonos subwoofer and/or Play:1’s.  I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to do this, but it would be nice to have the choice to do so completely wirelessly.  Finally, it would be nice to have better integration with some of the music services.  For example, I would love to have the option to automatically share the songs I play to Facebook, much like I can with the native Spotify app.  You can share what you’re playing to Twitter or Facebook, but the share is not embedded, like it is when you share to Facebook via the Spotify app.

If that’s the best I can come up with for wish list, you can tell that the Sonos system and apps are mature and well-designed.  It’s early, but so far I am a very happy customer, and one that will have to constantly resist the desire to buy additional Sonos equipment to add to my setup.

Or not.  Like I said, resistance is futile.

You Love Me Up, You Tear Me Down

fredeaglesmith

Sally Green
You sure are mean
Go ahead and do
The things you do
You love me up
You tear me down
You break my broken heart
Right in two.

Fred Eaglesmith

More Fred via my Fred Head Spotify playlist.

The Only Backup Plan That’ll Walk the Line

computercrash

Katie Floyd, co-host of one of my two favorite podcasts (Mac Power Users; my other favorite being Mac Geek Gab), has a very well-written and informative post on creating a backup strategy for your computer.  I agree with most of Katie’s plan, but like a lot of things I think backup strategies can be over-thought and overdone.  Like much of life, the secret to a good backup plan is making it easy enough to do regularly, and powerful enough to give you the results you need.

Before I describe the backup strategy I have settled on (after trying many, many others), let me add my voice to the chorus of those who believe that virtually any backup plan is better than the most common plan: none at all.  As you will see in a moment, I don’t think you need to backup every single piece of data on your computer.  But I do think that most people have some precious things on their computers (photographs, family videos, etc.),  as well as work product that would not be fun to re-create.  Backing up data is a lot like wearing a seat belt.  You don’t need it, until you do.  And if you haven’t used it by the time you need to, it’s too late.

There are two parts to my backup strategy.  First, figuring out what really needs to be backed up, and what doesn’t.  For example, I don’t think you need to backup your entire operating system.  In the event of a total computer failure, you can take the opportunity to do a clean install of the current version of your operating system, which will give you a cleaner, leaner and likely faster computer at the end of the restoration process.  Additionally, I don’t think you need to backup every single application.  On Macs, almost all applications can easily be re-downloaded from the App Store.  Those that were purchased directly from the vendor can almost always be obtained from the vendor’s website.  The exception would be those few applications you rely on that have been deprecated or are no longer available.  I keep installation files for those in a special “legacy applications” folder, which is backed up (more on that below).  It is important, of course, to keep your serial numbers and associated documentation with respect to legacy and directly purchased apps.  That information can be kept in a local file or in the cloud.  I keep this information in a Google spreadsheet.

What does need to be backed up are the files use with your operating system and in your various applications.  This includes your photographs, your videos, your music files (I long ago moved mine to Google Music, where they reside in the cloud and are accessible to me from almost anywhere; I do, however, backup the local copies of my mp3s), and all of your various word processing, spreadsheet, and other similar files.  The secret to making this approach work is both simple and important- you must establish and strictly maintain a folder system on your computer, so you will know which folders contain the files you need to backup.  Choose whatever works best for you.  My folder structure consist of five parent folders (documents, pictures, videos, music, and data files) with assorted sub-folders located thereunder.

Once I know what I need to back up and where it is located, we move to step two of my backup strategy: how and where to back it up.  I do this in two ways (complying with Katie’s redundancy rule).  One, via my Mac’s built-in Time Machine application, backing up to an Apple Time Capsule (in the interest of accuracy, this process does backup my entire computer, including the operating system, however in the event of a loss I would only restore the hard drive in its entirety via Time Machine if my second backup process (see below) failed).  This process is extremely easy to set up, and will work on any local or network attached storage-  it is not limited to Time Machines.  In addition to providing required redundancy, this approach allows me to open the Time Machine application on my Mac and find and restore individual files and documents that may have been inadvertently deleted.  In other words, I don’t have to restore the entire computer to recover data and documents.  I can go into the Time Machine application and grab the ones I want.

My second backup process consists of backing up the specific folders identified above to Amazon’s Glacier service (which is incredibly inexpensive) via the application Arq.  Stated simply, the folders described above are automatically backed up, every hour, to Amazon via Arq.  I backup to Glacier, but Arq supports numerous cloud locations.

Arq is a wonderful application, and does all of its work in the background.  An added benefit of this approach is that I can, if needed, access and restore files located on one of my Macs from another Mac, using the Arq application.  One caveat: one of the reasons Glacier is so cheap is because it is not designed for frequent storage and retrieval of files.  When you need access to a file, it can take several hours for Amazon to make it available.  This is both intentional (because Glacier is designed for backup) and a small annoyance to withstand, given how inexpensive Glacier is.

As an aside, I also currently backup my iPhoto file to Glacier in this matter.  It appears (and I deeply hope) that Apple is about to make this process unnecessary, by storing all photos in iCloud via the upcoming iOS 8 and the forthcoming Photos app.

So, let’s recap.  You need to back up some things, but maybe not everything.  There are many ways to do it, and the key is to pick a process that is both simple, redundant and reliable.  Unchecked, however, the process of backing up data can take a burdensome life of its own, which often results in people performing irregular backups or abandoning the process altogether.  Approached correctly, a backup process can be virtually invisible to you on a day by day basis, while acting as a digital seatbelt to protect important documents and data in the event of a digital accident.

Do it.  Now.  Here’s some music to enjoy while you do.

 

Let’s Not Be L-7

lospacaminos

Hatty told Matty “Let’s don’t take no chance.
Let’s not be L-seven, come and learn to dance.”

Los PacaminosWooly Bully (live in studio)