Boogie Board Sync 9.7 – A review posted on Amazon

I recently bought one of these “eWriters” when Amazon e-mailed me a recommendation.  At that time it was $69.99.  The price, as of this writing, is now $81.17 on Amazon and the list price is $99.99.  It is also sold from other places for as high as $120, so I figured $69.99 was a pretty good deal.  Here’s my Amazon review:

Excellent eWriter for the price – just a couple issues keeping it from a 5-star rating

This is a nice “notepad” replacement. I only have two small issues with it: 1: If you forget to look at the LED to make sure it’s lit and green (ON), you can fill the entire display with your notes only to find nothing has been saved, even when you turn the power on and press the SAVE button. Anything written on the surface BEFORE you powered it on is lost forever (you might as well take a photo of it with your phone if you need to keep it at that point). It would be awesome if there it had a simple auto-power-on feature built in that would automatically turn it on as soon as you started drawing on it. 2: It occasionally “skips” portions of letters and drawing strokes in saved documents. This seems to be at random times and doesn’t happen very frequently, but the drawn letters and lines are clearly on-screen and not shown in the saved copy once it awhile. This is fairly rare though. I would have given it 5 stars if it hadn’t been for those two issues.

I work in a Help Desk position, taking phone calls for PC issues all day long. Aside from the two issues mentioned above, this device has saved me from using a lot of paper already, and will save me a lot of money in notepads, which I used to go through very quickly taking call after call. I normally write down the details of each call and issue, then as time permits I’ll create tickets for those calls in our ticket system using my notes. It seems a little different to flip through my notes on my phone instead of flipping through all of my notebook pages, but I think that’s just something I’ll need to get used to over time.

Overall, I must admit that I still continue to search for that “perfect” ewriter solution that will provide what this does and fix the two issues I have with it, but this is pretty close and is definitely useful, and well worth the price. My co-workers seemed a bit disappointed that you can’t “recall” saved pages directly on the device, but they understand once I explain how and why the technology is “one-way” and only records keystrokes. The functionality of being able to recall pages would require more “tablet” or “notebook” technology, which would increase it’s thickness, weight and pricetag, I’m sure. Compared to all of the other options I’ve managed to dig up online, this one is “it” for now. Most others don’t allow you to save your pages outside of the device, let alone save in different formats to different services.

Also, I haven’t read anything about file formats other than saving as PDFs for this device, but I was happy to see that the Boogie Board Sync app on Android allows me to “share” any note as an image (png), PDF, or video (plays back your saved page as it was written, stroke by stroke). You can even select MULTIPLE pages (for example, an entire day of notes) and export them as a single multi-page PDF! Very nice!

Boyhood, The Beatles and The Black Album

This holiday season we watched a movie called “Boyhood”.  One of the many great things about the movie is how it reflects many aspects of life, and in this case, passing down musical taste from generation to generation. In one scene in the movie, Ethan Hawke’s father character describes to his son (played by Ellar Coltrane) “The Black Album.” What is it? Basically, what we’re describing, a greatest hits mix-tape and “secret” Beatles record which is essentially a collection of all the best solo Beatle songs – Songs performed by all 4 Beatles BEFORE or AFTER The actual Beatles, either when they were solo or in other bands. Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater came up with the track list together. If you’ve never delved in very deep with Beatles solo albums and wished there was one more Beatles record after Let It Be, well this it the playlist for you. The whole thing acts as a mixtape that Ethan Hawke writes for his son in the movie. And there’s even liner notes that begin:

I wanted to give you something for your birthday that money couldn’t buy, something that only a father could give a son, like a family heirloom.  This is the best I could do. Apologies in advance. I present to you: THE BEATLES’ BLACK ALBUM.”

The Beatles - The Black AlbumAfter looking at the playlist, I drooled. I wanted this. So I spent a few days over my Christmas/New Years holiday vacation this year and actually put the REAL CDs together. I was shocked to find I was only missing 3 songs! I bought those on and added them to complete the albums. I spent a whopping $1.87! Then I even found a cover art image on the internet that looked perfect, and changed the cover art and metatags for the album name so it matched the album info on every track. Here’s the album cover:

I used MediaMonkey for this, which is awesome for just such mass-changes. It worked out beautifully and I now have this 3-CD set on my phone to play any time I want to. Here’s the track list if you’re interested:

Disc 1:
1. Paul McCartney & Wings, “Band on the Run”
2. George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord”
3. John Lennon feat. The Flux Fiddlers & the Plastic Ono Band, “Jealous Guy”
4. Ringo Starr, “Photograph”
5. John Lennon, “How?”
6. Paul McCartney, “Every Night”
7. George Harrison, “Blow Away”
8. Paul McCartney, “Maybe I’m Amazed”
9. John Lennon, “Woman”
10.Paul McCartney & Wings, “Jet”
11. John Lennon, “Stand by Me”
12. Ringo Starr, “No No Song”
13. Paul McCartney, “Junk”
14. John Lennon, “Love”
15. Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney, “The Back Seat of My Car”
16. John Lennon, “Watching the Wheels”
17. John Lennon, “Mind Games”
18. Paul McCartney & Wings, “Bluebird”
19. John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” 20. George Harrison, “What Is Life”

Disc 2:
1. John Lennon, “God”
2. Wings, “Listen to What the Man Said”
3. John Lennon, “Crippled Inside”
4. Ringo Starr, “You’re Sixteen You’re Beautiful (And You’re Mine)”
5. Paul McCartney & Wings, “Let Me Roll It”
6. John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band, “Power to the People”
7. Paul McCartney, “Another Day”
8. George Harrison, “If Not For You (2001 Digital Remaster)”
9. John Lennon, “(Just Like) Starting Over”
10. Wings, “Let ‘Em In”
11. John Lennon, “Mother”
12. Paul McCartney & Wings, “Helen Wheels”
13. John Lennon, “I Found Out”
14. Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney, “Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey”
15. John Lennon, Yoko Ono & The Plastic Ono Band, “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)”
15. George Harrison, “Not Guilty (2004 Digital Remaster)”
16. Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney, “Heart of the Country”
17. John Lennon, “Oh Yoko!”
18. Wings, “Mull of Kintyre”
19. Ringo Starr, “It Don’t Come Easy”

Disc 3:
1. John Lennon, “Grow Old With Me (2010 Remaster)”
2. Wings, “Silly Love Songs”
3. The Beatles, “Real Love”
4. Paul McCartney & Wings, “My Love”
5. John Lennon, “Oh My Love”
6. George Harrison, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”
7. Paul McCartney, “Pipes of Peace”
8. John Lennon, “Imagine”
9. Paul McCartney, “Here Today”
10. George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass”
11. Paul McCartney, “And I Love Her (Live on MTV Unplugged)”

Google Music Unlimited vs Amazon Cloud Player Premium

cloud-music-showdownI recently tried Google Music Unlimited as my primary source for music. Subsonic is still up and running though, and still contains my entire music library, ready to stream via web or smartphone client (or Roku) whenever needed. I figured Google’s unlimited music service might just end up being the ultimate music service, based on their size and power, so when they offered a special low subscription rate for early subscribers, I decided to jump on-board and see how it goes.

There’s a “Google Music Manager” application available for the PC that I used for awhile. What it does is scan your personal music library, match it with Google’s library, and upload anything unmatched to their site. So basically, when it’s done, your entire existing collection, as well as Google’s entire library is available to you in one place. It is currently limited to 20,000 songs you can upload, so I was anxious to see what it would do with my massive existing collection. It figured it SHOULD match most of my albums, since most aren’t very rare and are on most music services, but it sure didn’t match many. SubSonic says I currently have just over 59,000 songs in my collection, and well over 20,000 (the Google Music limit) just in my “Rock” folder alone (my largest category). So I pointed Music Manager to the Rock folder and let it go. Over 8,100 songs failed to upload after I hit my limit, and I can’t find where it shows how many it actually matched. So far, I don’t think it matched any, which is a real shock. If I can get it to somehow match much of my collection, or at least allow users to increase the 20,000 uploaded songs limit by paying a monthly fee, I’d love to use it permanently. But so far it’s not looking good.

I tried the service for several weeks, and I’m pretty disappointed overall. It refuses to match any of my albums (hundreds of which were purchased from Amazon MP3) and 20,000 songs isn’t even HALF of my collection. I filled it in a few days, and most of what I want to listen to isn’t there, even though a lot of that is probably in Google’s vast unlimited collection, I’m still having a hard time with it. I keep trying, time after time, to use the “Radio” feature. This is supposed to take any song and create a “Radio Station” based on the song’s properties–the type of song, artist, title, etc., and then play music you’d most likely enjoy similar to that song. But almost every time I try to start it from a song, it fails with “Cannot create radio station at this time”. It gets pretty frustrating. And I’ve verified that connectivity isn’t the issue. It does the same thing whether I’m on my home wifi on a solid connection or out somewhere on my cellular connection. Sure, it works sometimes, but it fails enough of the time to make it unusable for me.

So right now I’ve given up on this one. I canceled by subscription, even though it was permanently at a discounted price of $7.99 a month because I started subscribing during it’s initial release. Instead, I am now trying Amazon’s Premium Cloud Player service. In comparison, Google’s service allowed 20,000 songs to be imported at $7.99/month, and Amazon’s Cloud Player Premium service allows 250,000 songs to be imported. This is over 10x the capacity, and probably way more than I’ll need for quite some time! Amazon’s premium service is also only $24.99/year. That’s a little over $2/month. Granted, Amazon doesn’t give you access to their vast music collection for free–and that might be a big factor for many users–but it’s not something I find extremely valuable myself. Usually, when I find new music, I want to purchase the actual album anyway, and add it to my personal collection, and I will usually purchase these through Amazon MP3, as I have for years, so it works out for me. And music I purchase this way doesn’t even apply toward my 250,000-song import limit, so I sincerely doubt I will EVER hit the limit. As for discovering new music, I know it’s pretty handy to have a wide-open huge selection you can sample all you want like Google’s service offers, but I find plenty just by listening to the radio, browsing Amazon’s site, and getting my fill of music exposure from the various TV and music shows I watch.

Based on all of that, I think Amazon Cloud Player Premium might just be the solution for me. There is one catch with a music collection as large as mine, however: Getting over 50,000 songs uploaded and synchronized with Amazon is no small task. It took me a total of about 5 weeks, using a “server” PC that I leave on 24/7, in order to get my entire collection uploaded and sync’ed (August 2nd, 2013 – September 10th , 2013. It did have it’s issues, and even crashed a couple times, completely freezing the “Amazon Music Importer”, but every time I restarted the app it never failed to resume. I reached a point, somewhere at around 4,200 remaining songs left to import, where it never got any further after restarting. I’m not sure what caused this–whether it got stuck on a particular song or whether it kept looping through all of them, but it just continued to flip through song titles scanning for matches in Amazon’s collection compared to mine, and didn’t get any further, so after two days of noting this, even after restarts of the app and restarts of the PC, I used a different approach: Instead of mass-adding my entire “MUSIC” folder, I instead chose one subfolder (which I have broken out into music types, like “country”, “rock”, “new age”, etc.) and started importing them separately, one category at a time. This seemed to resolve the issue, and after that every subfolder completed and imported without issue until I was done.

During this 5-week process, I also noted that on a few occasions the “AmazonMusicImporter” process in Windows would keep running and the memory usage would continue to increase even long after I closed the utility and stopped importing! This only seemed to happen when I was importing folders containing several thousand songs though. It never seemed to happen on smaller folders. Whenever this occurred, I noticed that the PC kept running very sluggishly until I ended the process using task manager. So all in all it was quite a chore, but I should never have to do it again, and I can rest assured that my entire collection is in the cloud, securely backed up and available for streaming, any time, anywhere.

The Android app itself is a little clunky, but it does have all of the functionality that I need, offering the ability to view “Cloud” and “Device” music separately, download entire albums or just songs to the device as needed, etc., etc, There’s also a web-based “Amazon Cloud Player” you can use for managing your playlists, albums and songs, and it offers many more features that I really like. It’s very quick and easy to make my playlists this way. They also have an installable app for the PC, also called “Amazon Clound Player”, but I don’t recommend it at all, at this point. For some reason, a lot of my music–and even some of my playlists–just don’t show up in this app, but they show up in the web-based app and on my phone, so I know they’re there. What the deal is, I have no idea. I can log out of the app, back in, tell it to re-check my cloud for new music, and I still have literally THOUSANDS of songs missing in that app. So for now I’ll still to web-based and Android versions, which work smoothly and “see” my entire music collection.

Amazon MP3 ROCKS!

Wow, Amazon MP3 just blew my mind!  When their service started, I was pretty disappointed that they didn’t grandfather in all of my old MP3 purchases.  Instead, from the day their cloud player went live and forward, it would store your music.  Bummer for me, since I had spent hundreds of dollars on music on Amazon since they first started selling MP3’s.  I didn’t lose any music though, I still had it stored on my own drives.  Well, today they’ve finally included all of my previous MP3 purchases into my Amazon Cloud collection!  I had just under 100 albums on my cloud drive before, and now, as Amazon continues to scan my old purchases, it is importing 1,936 previously-purchased albums!  Wow.  Luckily, NONE of these albums go against my GB storage limit, since they were purchased from Amazon!  So now this gives me another streaming option in addition to Audiogalaxy and Subsonic.

Up until now, Audiogalaxy has been my preferred streamer.  It’s completely free, streams much smoother than any of other option I’ve tried, and it even works great at work.  Subsonic has the added benefit of downloading as standard MP3’s so I can use standard media players on my devices to play the music, but it doesn’t want to play at work.  I’ll have to see how Cloud Player stacks up, now that I have all my music back on it.


Another walk to Heim'sWe had a nice walk to Heim’s Toy store yesterday.  Kevin loves drooling over all of the toys, and since Socks and I always enjoy a good walk, we chose it as our destination again.

Speaking of Heim’s, a few weeks ago I ordered Kevin a “Newton’s Cradle” from Amazon.  He had been asking for one for a long time, and Heim’s said they had them but they were out of stock.  They took our number and said they’d call us when they came in.  After several weeks with no calls from them, I gave up and ordered one for him as a surprise.  It came this week, and he likes it.  Well, when we were at Heim’s yesterday, we window-shopped, and noticed that they have a whole shelf full of Newton’s Cradles–even two different models!  So where’s our phone call?!  Not that we’re interested any more, since we already bought one elsewhere, but that’s not the point.  Oh well.  I guess they don’t need sales as much as we thought they did.

Another thing we just have to do when we go to Heim’s is stop and see the cats.  There’s a cat adoption agency right around the corner from Heim’s and they have a large bay window.  The cats lounge all throughout the place, including on all their cat furniture located in the window.  So we just go by and say hi, and see what antics they’re up to.  Yesterday, however, another couple was there…using a laser pointer!  Cats and laser pointers work well together, apparently.  This was really funny to watch.  Sandy, who stopped to pick us up when we were done, decided to join in on the fun, and pulled out the laser pointer she has on her keychain.  Try TWO laser pointers on a dozen cats in a single room!  Then hold up a chihuahua for them to see…  Ah, good times.

AnfFest 2012Oh yeah, ice cream and ants.  We stopped at Scoops next to Heim’s and had two scoops each.  It kinda reverses the reason for the walk, but it was fun.  I had a scoop of bubble gum and a scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough.  Kevin had two scoops of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.  Sandy had a scoop of peach and a scoop of strawberry, I think.  And between Heim’s and the cat house, we ran across this.  Yeek!  I’m not sure what was under there, but the ants sure love it, whatever it is!

On another note, Kevin also now calls squirrels by looking around whispering “tic-tac! tic-tac!”  He seems to think squirrels like these things now.  Thanks, Pat!