Control 4: My House Is An MP3 Player

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A lot has been made of the MP3 player you put in your pocket in recent years, but the future belongs to the MP3 player you live in. If you’re looking to fire up digital music in your home you have a few tiers of options: Squeezebox or Roku gets you in the game for $150, Sonos is the Rhapsody-enabled, Mossberg-approved whole home music solution, but Control 4 is the most versatile, affordable, standards-based, programmable home automation plus digital audio solution I’ve seen. I put Control 4 in my house in July with help from my homies at Control 4, Ed from Vantage, Jonathan from So Cal Smart Home, and my main man Matt Pszonak. More than a few IMs from Julie with questions like “why does the light in the hallway keep flashing off and on” will tell you it hasn’t been 100% smooth sailing, but it’s a very cool system once you get it all wired. If you’re looking for a whole-house solution, I don’t think there’s much competition on both price and flexibility.

Control 4 HTC

Here’s how it works in my house: a Control 4 Home Theater Controller (HTC) sits in a rack in my closet, attached to my home network, along with a Control 4 16 channel amp (also networked), Control 4 XM/FM/AM Multi-Tuner (ditto), DirecTV TiVo, and Marantz 8500 A/V Receiver. The receiver is tied into the plasma and 5:1 surround in the living room, and the 16 channel amp is hard-wired to in-ceiling speakers in every room in the house (both living room and in-ceiling speakers are by TruAudio). The HTC has little infrared remotes so it can control the TV, receiver, and TiVo box, and it talks directly to the components on the network. Additionally I swapped all our light switches for Control 4 switches or dimmers as well as our thermostat, and these all talk to the HTC via the Zigbee RF protocol. This allows everything (lights, tv, etc) to be controlled from any Control 4 remotes, of which there are a few options: mini touch screens in the walls (like the photo above), hand-held remotes which are in a few of the rooms, or the hand-held remote + the TV. They’ve done a very good job making the interface 100% consistent across this variety of control points.

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But the best part is that I can mount a share from a computer in my home office and the HTC will index all my MP3s, then allow me to pump the audio through any configuration of speakers in the house. The HTC has two analog outputs that plug directly into the amp, so you can listen to two different MP3 streams at once (Zoe can listen to Girl Talk in her room, Julie can listen to James Taylor in Lucinda’s room and the rest of the house). And you can browse by cover art, show a screen saver of the currently playing track on the touch screens in the walls, etc.

For blog post on FISTFULAYEN.com

Oh I almost forgot. Richard and Jonathan helped me rig up the turntable in the living room so it slides out of the wall unit, plays through the living room system, and is route-able to any or all of the speakers in the rest of the house. Kinda nice.

Whole house music has been my dream since Zoe and I first holed up at Club D for a few weeks in the spring of 1995. I was prepared to go old school analog with little knobs in the wall until Dave Goldberg introduced me to the Control 4 guys. They really seem to be the only ones who get it, leveraging standards like IP, Wifi, Zigbee, and MP3, and creating something reasonably-priced, useful, and easily extended.

Being able to sit in the rocker with Lucinda, turn on the music, turn down the lights, and adjust the heat all from a hand-held remote control the size of the one that comes with a TV is pretty crazy.

A setup like this definitely isn’t for everyone, but I’ve had enough people ask me about what it is and how it works that I wanted to put this post up to explain the basics and have a place to point people when they ask. If you’re looking for a quote, call Jonathan at SoCal Smart Home or the kind folks at Vantage and they’ll hook you up. To be honest I wouldn’t have been able to afford it if I hadn’t gotten the bro discount, but if you’re already in the market for home automation gear you’ll probably find it to be pretty reasonably priced.

Dig the Control 4 pitch reels:


And an update on all the after-market nonsense available from the latest Control 4 trade show:
http://www.podtech.net/player/podtech-player.swf?bc=3F34K2L1ian

Warner Sells MP3s at Amazon

No DRM

It’s official, the way you buy music in the future is in MP3 format from Amazon.

Warner Music Group has announced delivery of its entire digital catalog in MP3 format to Amazon.

Billboard is reporting that Sony BMG will follow suit in January.

DRM is dead on music files and it hasn’t even been two years since Dave Goldberg was the first person “in the industry” to have the balls to say it was over. Please tell me we don’t have to go through this same bullshit for video.

UPDATE: I just checked and yes, you can get the entire Led Zeppelin catalog in MP3 format, so I’d say they’re serious about putting the whole catalog in. When they released the Zep catalog on iTunes for $100 I asked my friend at Rhino, “DRM free or am I going to have to spend the whole weekend burning/ripping?” In the end I decided to save my $100. Now that they’re in MP3 format, I just bought the first 8 LPs from Amazon (skipped Coda, Song Remains the Same, BBC Sessions, and How The West Was Won). The only thing I had in my non-vinyl collection was the two “Remasters” discs. Will be good to finally have the whole catalog (downloading now).

UPDATE 2: And now, an hour later, I have the Zep collection in my wall (see here for more info on the Control 4 setup I have). No burning, ripping, way less hassle than if I’d have bought from iTunes.

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UPDATE 3: Sorry, just need to say one more thing here — if you are someone who stood in the way of DRM free music over the last 8 years, please consider firing yourself. I’m serious. Imagine if you’d have made it this easy for me to drop $80 on your music and enjoy it in my living room digitally 8 years ago. Imagine spending the last 8 years fighting piracy with superior products instead of in the courts. Imagine. You just wasted 8 years of opportunity, only to find yourself with EXACTLY the solution that was suggested then. Get out of the way and let the new business emerge before you make similarly behind-the-times decisions tomorrow. We’re fifteen years into this Internet thing and by now you either get it or you don’t. If you don’t, and you’re killing your company with decisions like “we must have DRM or we’re dead” you don’t get it and are probably hurting the company you work for. I am not trying to be mean, but I’m completely serious. It’s nothing personal against anyone in particular at all (in fact I personally like many of the people who might take offense at this), just frustration over the amount of money wasted and opportunity lost as we’ve been fighting this pointless battle, only to end up at what was obviously the logical conclusion all along. I don’t want to hear the “yeah, but” come out of your mouth. You were wrong.

UPDATE 4: The Sony BMG news is finally public. It’s gone. Amazon has all four majors. Ding. Dong. Salon points out the irony.

ian

What I Learned At Jury Duty

12 Angry Men

As anyone who tried to get in touch with me during November knows, I found myself a juror in a medical malpractice trial recently. After three full days of jury selection I got pulled in as an alternate. I was prepared with a list of reasons they didn’t want me. I’d had surgery at the defendant’s hospital, had personal experiences with some of the issues in the case. I had a sidebar with the judge and the lawyers. Didn’t matter. Fact is, when you’re the third alternate they don’t much care what your excuses are, chances are you aren’t even going to deliberate. Especially when it’s 4:40pm and they like to get out of dodge at 4:30. So it took them three days to pick twelve jurors and five minutes to pick me. Goodbye November. Poof. Mark Walker explained my selection: “You can’t hide an honest face and a sense of justice.” Lucky me.

But hey, it’s not like I’m going to pick up a gun and fight for the world’s freedom, and aside from paying taxes this is all the government is going to ask me to do for my country, so I did it without complaining. I showed up on time every day even though court never started on time, paid attention for the most part, and didn’t do anything that would cause a mis-trial.

In the end I’m not sure I agreed with the outcome the jury found so I’m glad I didn’t have to sit in the deliberations and argue. It wasn’t a responsibility I was too psyched about, to be honest.

Overall I was pretty impressed with the process. There are plenty of problems with our jury-of-your-peers system, but it gets an E for effort. The judge conducted a fair trial, the lawyers weren’t anyone I’d want defending me but took their jobs very seriously with a lot of reverence for the court, and the jurors were impressively responsible and respectful of the process.

That said, I learned a few crucial lessons about medicine and law in my three weeks in the court room. I’m going to jot them down here so not to ever forget them:

  1. Surgery is fucking crazy. I sat through three weeks of testimony from doctors and nurses and god damn, they can cure prostate cancer. It’s gnarly and makes me squirm just thinking about HOW they do it, but it’s pretty crazy that we figured it out and do it all the time. Even if it doesn’t work EVERY time, the fact that it EVER works is some impressive shit.
  2. Never, ever go to Kaiser, belong to an HMO, or let anyone you love go to Kaiser or belong to an HMO. I get why it’s SEEMS a good idea politically, but as Mark Walker said, it turns out having the money and the doctors on the same side of the table creates problems — they align against the patient. Your family and health are worth too much. Spend the extra loot for a real insurance plan.
  3. In the case that you need surgery, get the best doctor in the world. Not the one that your friend knows, not the one on TV, get the one that’s triple-boarded and WROTE THE TEXT BOOK THAT ALL THE OTHER DOCTORS USE. Why fuck around?
  4. If you might find yourself in court, don’t. Settle that shit. It isn’t worth it. What this poor couple went through was more humiliating than those casting calls Pat D, Shewchuck, and I used to go on, and that’s saying a lot. You do NOT want to go to trial.
  5. When you do have legal trouble, get the best lawyer you can find. In the case I alternated for there were three defendents, so four lawyers in all. Only one was someone I’d hire myself, you could tell he was GOOD and he managed to get the case against his client excused a few days in. Don’t mess around. Get the best. If I need a lawyer I want to see their stats, wins, losses, etc. I’m going with the best record.

So I’m out of the pool for a few years. Here’s hoping it’s a good long time.

ian

Tammy D Gets Biz on the Stove Top

Director of greats like Billy Madison and CB4, wife of Mike D, Tamra Davis has just fired up her own online cooking show. It’s fun to watch, and looks yummy. Check it out, subscribe, leave comments, all that good stuff, here:

http://www.tamradaviscookingshow.com

Be sure to read her “why do this?” post.

She shoots and edits it all herself, no crew (apart from the kids), no camera person. I said, um, what about those shots of you crossing the street in NYC pushing a stroller? She said she goes out, puts the camera down on a tripod, sets up the shot, goes back, crosses the street, then collects the camera. Think about that shit when you’re watching.

Anyway, tis good, and perfect for online consumption IMHO. Can’t wait to see where she goes with it.

ian

Music Is The Best, 2007 Edition

Multiple people have told me they’re not sure they have “best of” lists for this year. Huh? Music is getting better, folks, so if you’re not finding it you’re either a) a fucking luddite or b) getting old. If you’re watching TV at night and listening to the radio in the car then you better check yoself before you wreck yoself, it’s not 1975 and good music isn’t falling out of the sky. But with resources like this and this there’s not much excuse for being “out of touch”. Subscribe to Mojo and GET BACK ON THE HORSE, HOSS.

Here is a list of things I dug this year. It’s not meant to be a “this is the best music and if you don’t know these albums you’re way lame and if it’s not on this list it SUCKED!” list. I didn’t hear everything I would have liked, I’m sure, and if you thought the Bruce Springsteen or Justice record was the best thing that came out last year that’s cool with me. These are just the albums I played over and over in 2007. You should check ‘em out.

Okkervil River - The Stage Names
Okkervil River – The Stage Names [buy MP3s on Amazon]
I loved Black Sheep Boy and when this record came out I was impressed but not enthralled. However, I later found myself on jury duty for three weeks and playing the album over and over in headphones. Upon this closer inspection I was completely moved by the songwriting and lyrics. Of everything I got into this year, this one is going to sound the best twenty years from now.
Okkervil River – John Allyn Smith Sails

Bat For Lashes - Fur and Gold
Bat For Lashes – Fur and Gold [buy MP3s on Amazon]
Not only one of the best records beginning to end but definitely the best live show I saw this year. I owe this one to Mojo.
Bat For Lashes – Trophy

Joan As Police Woman - Real Life
Joan As Police Woman – Real Life (& B-Sides) [buy MP3s on Amazon]
Most addictive album of the year. It sounds beautiful on first listen but I dare you to listen five times and not get the melodies stuck in your head, requiring more listens for the un-stick-age. Joan Wasser was in Rufus’ band, Antony’s band, and was reportedly romantically involved with Jeff Buckley at the time of his death. This album and the amazing B-Sides collection (which includes a cover of one of my favorite Bowie songs, Sweet Thing) prove she does best standing on her own. Amazing stuff. I learned about this from a Lucy at Warner Music’s UK office on my trip to London this summer.
Joan As Police Woman – The Ride

Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Panda Bear – Person Pitch [buy MP3s on Amazon]
I was never much for Animal Collective. I liked it fine, just wasn’t blown away by it. This album is not your average Animal Collective album. It’s the Beach Boys album you heard in your sleep, played through freshly-woken ears. The soundtrack to many a late-night work session this year. Heard about this one on Pitchfork’s Best New Music page.
Panda Bear – Bros

Against Me! - Bourne on the FM Waves
Against Me! – New Wave [buy on Amazon]
Pop punk really isn’t my thing but Ben Fox has always loved this band and when Ben Lee covered the album in its entirety and Adam Starr also told me he couldn’t stop listening to it I decided it was time to give in and take the plunge. I’m glad I did. An entire album of anthems, it’s a simple pleasure. Sounded fucking great in headphones on the mountain in the snow last week.
Against Me! – Bourne on the FM Waves

Dwight Yoakam - Dwight Sings Buck
Dwight Yoakam – Dwight Sings Buck [buy MP3s on Amazon]
One of my biggest regrets is not taking my mom to central Cal and seeing Buck Owens where he played at a casino a few nights a week before he died. I love Buck and could listen to him all day every day. Chris Morris had Dwight on (the world’s greatest radio show) Watusi Rodeo a few weeks back pimping this new record so I picked up the MP3s from Amazon and have been happy ever since.
Dwight Yoakam – Under Your Spell Again

!!! - Myth Takes
!!! – Myth Takes [buy on Amazon]
I’ll stand by my claim from earlier in the year that this is the album I wished !!! would make when I wanted to sign them to Grand Royal. There’s nothing else like it. Original, dance-able, heavy. Love it.
!!! – A New Name

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky [buy on Amazon]
2007 should stand out as the year Nels Kline saved Wilco from mediocrity. This is the album of the year on so many levels. Like the Okkervil River record, this album is going to sound as good in 2025 as it would have in 1979. Nearly perfect. You can read my original review from earlier in the year here.
Wilco – You Are My Face

White Williams
White Williams – Smoke [buy on Amazon]
An album by perhaps the only person who has spent more time listening to Bowie’s Lodger and Low and early Eno than me? I’ve been listening to this over and over. Rick Morris turned me on to this over dinner one fateful evening.
White Williams – New Violence

Yeasayer - All Hour Cymbals
Yeasayer – All Hour Cymbals [buy MP3s on Amazon]
Between this and Midlake, the Fleetwood Mac sound might be coming back. Not a terrible thing. I love this record. Beautiful and unique. I also love the existence of the Web so music like this has a distribution channel. If this had come out 20 years ago we’d be just discovering it now, wondering how something like this slipped through. Unique, spirited music people love — it’s the shape of music to come.
Yeasayer – Sunrise

Dungen - Tio Bitar
Dungen – Tio Bitar [buy on Amazon]
Dungen followed up 2004’s Ta Det Lungt and didn’t drop the ball! Still love these guys for a hundred reasons.
Dungen – Svart Är Himlen / En Gång I År Kom Det En Tår

Dizzee Rascal - Maths + English
Dizzee Rascal – Maths + English [buy MP3s on Amazon]
Sadly the only hip hop record that made my list this year. If you have great hip hop on your list PLEASE SEND. Maybe I just didn’t hear the good stuff this year somehow. Bring it. I was never a Dizzee Rascal fan, but this record broke through. Hard as hell, clever, story rhymes, creative beats — this had all the ingredients for me. For some reason the MP3 album on Amazon doesn’t seem to contain the best cut on the album, Pussyole, but thankfully you can find it all over the net.
Dizzee Rascal – Sirens

A Place To Bury Strangers
A Place To Bury Strangers – A Place To Bury Strangers [buy MP3s on Amazon]
Come on. If you ever liked My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, or even Big Black, you have to have some love for the folks in Brooklyn making effects pedals and melodic noise. This is more than just a noisy outing, though, it’s got songs.
A Place To Bury Strangers – Missing You

Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity
Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity [buy MP3s on Amazon]
Don’t leave this record off your lists just because it came out in January. The world’s greatest band is somehow getting better on every release. If you’re one of the many (most) that don’t get the mighty hoof I genuinely feel for you. You’ve missed a lot of joy the past few years. Something I’m glad to have been able to share with my kid. Mark Thompson originally hipped me to this band.
Deerhoof – The Perfect Me

M.I.A. - Kala
M.I.A. – Kala [buy MP3s on Amazon]
I wasn’t going to include the MIA record, it’s on everyone else’s list and I really didn’t rock it all that often this year, but “20 Dollar” came on shuffle yesterday driving in the car and I was reminded how much I love it and her.
M.I.A. – 20 Dollar

Radiohead - In Rainbows
Radiohead – In Rainbows [buy on Amazon]
The greatest band in the world changing the music business by making great fucking music? What more could you want? Put away the haterade and ENJOY.
Radiohead – Bodysnatchers

I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve forgotten but I’ve already spent too much time copy/pasting here. Enjoy the list, buy some music, happy new year. Music is the best.

ian

ps – post a link to your best of ‘07 post in the comments and I’ll check it out. I found some of my favorite stuff by trolling last years’ lists…

MIT Invited My Kid to Spend Four Years With Them

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I remember the first time I thought about what college Zoe might go to. It was the end of 8th grade, she’d gone back to public school for the year after three and a half years of home-schooling. She was top of the class, and took home more awards from the graduation ceremony than she could carry. At one point the guy calling out names for awards said, “Don’t sit down Zoe, you’re not done yet.” And I thought, woah, she’s the kind of kid that can have some choices when it comes to college.

When I was in junior high my mom quit working in the factory after 25 years and went to the community college. She’d just been divorced for the third time and wanted more control over her own destiny. That took guts — no one in our family had ever gone to college before her.

I wasn’t exactly college-bound myself. My hope (“plan” would be too strong a word) was to go to Full Sail School of the Recording Arts, a thirteen-month recording engineer/producer school. Zoe’s mom was pregnant before we graduated high school and I decided to do what my mom did instead, community college at Indiana University South Bend; I was afraid if I didn’t get a four-year degree I was destined for a trailer park in Goshen.

So I wasn’t one of those parents who thought about what college Zoe would go to from an early age. I’d never been through the college selection process before. But at that moment when she swept the junior high awards ceremony like LOTR at the Oscars I knew I’d better get my shit together and make sure this kid went to the best college that was excited to have her.

Somehow something went right. Last Saturday (while I was on a snow cat in Aspen — that post will come later) we found out Zoe was accepted early admission to her top choice, MIT. She’ll still apply to Harvard, Tufts, BU, and a couple of UC schools, but odds are good she’ll end up there. Regardless, we’re proud of her and I hold back a few tears every time I think too hard about it. I mean, hell, it’s one thing for you to think your kid is top-notch, but validation from a third party doesn’t always come.

But it takes a village. I couldn’t even begin to thank all the people who helped us raise a kid as kids. Y’all know who you are, and most of you have stayed in our lives in one way or another all the way through. Thank you. Give yourselves a pat on the back, too. Special thanks to Dave Conway for suggesting she have a radio show four years ago (MIT actually referenced her show on her acceptance letter), Mark Walker for the recommendation letter, Tony for hooking us up with College Options, College Options for guiding us through the minefield since I’d have killed us both trying to navigate the process on my own, and of course Susi for giving Zoe the smart genes.

But Zoe, yo, you did it. FUCK YEAH! GOOD WORK, KIDDO.

CLICK HERE TO LEAVE A COMMENT FOR ZOE!

xoxo,
papa