Last month I bought a new camera: a Canon Rebel T6i. Even though I’ve considered myself to be somewhat of a photo hobbyist for years now, it’s my first DSLR ever.
This month, I finally retired my decaying, 8-year-old laptop and bought a new Dell i5.
So today I decided to rectify yet another long overdue acquisition: I purchased a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan so that I can edit the pictures I take with my new camera on my new laptop.
Since today is my 3-year-old daughter Beth’s birthday, my first photo creation is a picture of her:
This image was modified in Lightroom only. I haven’t delved into Photoshop just yet.
Marlene and I got new cell phones last spring to replace our aging Samsung Galaxy S4s. We had been quite satisfied with the S4, and so the S6 was an obvious candidate for our new device. We ultimately decided against it, though, and opted to get the Sony Xperia Z3v instead. The three main features we liked about the Z3v were:
A large, long-lasting battery (the S6 was criticized for this in revews)
A microSD card expansion slot (sadly absent in the S6)
IP68 Water-resistant up to 1 meter for 30 minutes (relatively unique among phones at the time)
As of this writing, Samsung is taking pre-orders for the Galaxy S7. The new features promoted on their website:
Dual-Edge Design (S7 edge only)
Expandable Memory (microSD)
Interesting that the S7 incorporates all three of the features that I thought were lacking in the S6!
Water-resistance is the feature that I want to focus on in this article. It truly sounds like a very cool idea. Given my chaotic household, I knew it was likely to come in handy. I wasn’t wrong.
Since getting my Xperia, I have used it in the rain and snow. I use it at the pool-side and when bathing the kids. It has had apple juice spilled on it… twice!
Whenever I find some mystery substance on my phone (a fairly frequent occurrence) I just run it under the tap to rinse it off. Water-resistance is great…
…when it works! And now we come to the “horrible” part. How do I know that the water-resistance of my phone hasn’t been compromised? Answer: I don’t, until I test it.
The only way to test that my phone is still water-resistant is to expose it to water, and if my test fails, my phone is fried. Hmm… Not the best scenario.
The horror story
Yes, this has actually happened to me. Back in September, I dropped my phone, and the screen shattered. At the time, I had insurance coverage on the phone. I contacted the insurance company, and (for a $100 deductible fee) they sent me out a replacement immediately. I received it the next day!
And then Nora and I went swimming. I’m sure you can see where this is headed. My replacement phone was not water-resistant. Not in the least. I did submerge the phone once, a few inches under water for a few seconds, but nowhere near the 1 meter for 30 minutes claim. And it was gone. Dead.
I spent hours on the phone with the insurance company, hoping to get them to take responsibility. From my perspective, they sent me a defective replacement product. I was repeatedly told that they’d be happy to replace my waterlogged phone, for another $100 deductible fee.
After many conversations with Asurion, with Verizon, and with Sony, I finally was able to get Sony to replace my phone for free. I was without my phone for two whole weeks while they “worked on it,” but I’m pretty thankful that they were willing to do so at all. I don’t personally consider Sony the responsible party in this case.
I’m happy to report that my Xperia is fully functional now, including water-resistance. I’m somewhat nervous, though, every time it’s exposed to liquid. Is it still water-resistant?
Feature or safety net?
Perhaps I shouldn’t rely on water-resistance. Maybe I should shun water as though my phone were not water-resistant, and just be thankful if it protects me against accidental exposure. But I’d prefer not to do so.
I’ve become accustomed to the convenience of a water-resistant device. It was one of the features that first attracted me to the Z3v, and I don’t want to give it up. And yet the doubts remain…
Several months ago, I installed Plex Media Server in my house, and in many ways it has revolutionized the way that we access our media. At some point in the future, I may write an article detailing how Plex organizes my video collection. Today, I am writing about how I am using Plex to better enjoy my music.
My collection as libraries
The first level of organization that Plex offers is libraries. Music, videos, and pictures can be organized into libraries which are listed individually on the Plex home screen. Libraries can also be sorted, searched, and filtered separately, so it makes sense to divide my music based on how I would like to browse the titles.
My current libraries can be seen listed on the left-hand side in the image below:
I have decided to separate my music into two libraries: Music and Christmas Music. When exploring my music collection, I rarely want to see, or listen to, Christmas music mixed in, so I have segregated the festive tracks from the standard content.
I considered separating kids’ music into another library, but decided against it. I actually like a good amount of the music my children listen to, and they enjoy a lot of my music as well. So it makes sense to keep those two categories integrated.
With my current two-library configuration, my music demographics at the time I am writing this are as follows:
# of Tracks
The ever-present playlist
Obviously, I haven’t really organized my music all that much with the libraries I have set up. I have almost 10,000 tracks lumped into the unhelpful title of Music. Playlists have been the standard way to organize music for the past 20 years or so. I tend to use them sparingly, though.
A playlist is very constricting, by design. Playlists also don’t add much information or structure to a music collection. Instead, they pull microcosms of structure out of a collection.
I have several playlists on Plex, but most of them are reminders, such as damaged or incorrectly detected tracks. I only have three playlists that I currently use for listening purposes: Kids’ Music, Kids in Bed, and Worship Music.
I play Kids’ Music on my phone while I’m taking care of, or playing with, my children. Kids in Bed is played each night in the children’s rooms while they sleep. And I listen to Worship Music on Sunday mornings while getting ready for church, or any other time the mood strikes me.
Moods and Plex Mix
Plex offers a couple of features to dynamically create playlists from my music collection. Many of the songs in my library have been automatically categorized by mood. Plex provides a long list of moods to select from, many of which are very creative options such as Dark Sparkling Lyrical, or Energetic Melancholy, or Hard Positive Excitement. Selecting a mood will, in theory, play a selection of songs from my library that match the selected description. Multiple moods can be selected in conjunction to create unique mixes.
Plex Mix is more like a Pandora playlist in that I can select a single track that I like, and tell Plex to create a Plex Mix from that track. It will then play a selection of other songs from my collection that are “similar” to the selected track.
The rating game
My current project is to go through my entire music collection and rate every track on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. As of right now, I have rated exactly 2,200 of my 9,690 tracks, so I am about 23% done. Here is the procedure that I am using to process my entire collection:
Get a filtered listing of all of my unrated music tracks.
Select the first 120, or so, tracks at the top of the list and add them to a temporary playlist.
Instruct Plex to shuffle this temporary playlist while I’m at work.
If, while listening, a song comes on that I can rate with certainty, then I will go ahead and do so. Otherwise, I will leave the song unrated.
Once Plex has made a full pass through this playlist, I will delete it and go back to step 1 to create a new playlist of about 120 songs.
In this current pass through my music, I am using the following criteria for rating a song:
# of Stars
# Tracks w/ Rating
I never want to hear this track again.
This song is fine. I'll listen to it, but it's not particularly noteworthy.
I like this song quite a bit. I'll listen to it any time.
This song is great! I absolutely love it.
Unused at this time.
Using this process, I can quickly categorize the songs that I know well or have strong feelings about, while the less obvious songs linger in the playlist. The songs that I am unclear about are played frequently until I either learn to like them, or get tired of them.
Once I finish rating my entire collection on this scale, I intend to make another pass through my 4-star songs, using a similar procedure, to further refine the high end of the spectrum. In this second pass, some of my absolute favorite tracks will be promoted to a 5-star rating, and likely a handful will be downgraded to a 3-star rating.
I am already reaping the rewards of the rating project. At any time, I can shuffle just my 4-star songs, and know that for however long I want to listen, I will hear one great song after another. Even at less than a quarter complete, my 4-star list is close to 50 hours long, so it always feels fresh. If I’m in the mood for more musical variety, I can always include the 3-star songs as well.
I am also learning about my music collection and my tastes during this process. For example, I apparently like music by Bush quite a bit. Of the eleven songs on the Sixteen Stone album that I have, I rated seven of them at 4-stars. On the other hand, I’m not quite as big of an Aerosmith fan as I thought. Tyler and crew also garnered seven 4-star ratings, but that’s out of a total of thirty-five Aerosmith songs in my collection.