Archive for Svibanj, 2006

Fonoteka

Svibanj 31, 2006

I usually don't write about the Croatian "web scene" because I have the mental health of my visitors in mind, but I just HAVE to write a few sentences about this lousy attempt of creating the first legal music download site in Croatia. Now, I have to mention that I'm not a big fan of T-Com, the leading… nah, who am I kidding – the almost-exclusive telecommunication services provider in Croatia. Not that I have anything against the gals and guys that work there, I just don't like their… "bussiness plan". But, they do allow me to connect to the 'net every day, so I have to show some respect now.

So, the gals and guys decided recently to launch the first legal MP3 download site in Croatia, called Fonoteka. Behind the obscure address (mdp.tportal.hr – WTF? – http://www.fonoteka.hr isn't working at the time of writing this) lies the revolutionary web service. Not.

The first thing that I noticed is the obnoxious "BETA" underneath the logo. I just don't see the point of marking a web service as "BETA" and trying to sell it (or something at it). Sure it'll be updated and sure it has bugs – which (web) app doesn't? – but don't tell me your product isn't finished yet. Why should I use it if it's not finished? 

Next, the layout. Oh, the horror! The whole T-Portal website shares a similar framed design which makes me want to scream every time I visit it. It just annoys me – sometimes it screws up the "back" button, and I can't simply copy/paste the link to the site I'm currently watching. Terrible.

Now when the site experience is already ruined, let's see the offer… It's not too rich, but it's not too poor, either. The fact that it's not too long online (hey, it's BETA) and that they'll probably add some songs and albums as they go helps them a bit. There are a few albums that are interesting to me (I like albums, not separate songs, so I didn't check out that offer), but now comes the interesting part – the price.

Albums are usually not cheap in Croatian music shops (real-life, not virtual :)) – the price for albums of Croatian performers goes around 60 – 100 kn (around 8 – 13,5 €) and around 110 – 150 kn (around 14,5 – 20 €) for foreign artists. The prices at Fonoteka are: 7,32 kn (around 1 €) for a single song, and 73,20 kn (around 10 €) for a whole album. I wouldn't even think about buying a single song if it was two times less expensive than that. It's just damn too much. As far as the whole albums are concerned – it's true that it's probably cheaper, but when you add the ADSL traffic (or the time on the 'net for dial-up users) you spend to download the album, it's the same. Not to mention the inferior quality of MP3 over a regular audio CD and the lack of the original CD booklet. As far as I'm concerned, I'd rather walk a bit to the local music store, buy an original CD for a bit higher price and enjoy the full-quality audio CD with the original booklet.

And the last thing – the payment methods. Or, the payment method. The only way of paying for the songs is over the T-Com telephone / internet bill. Noup, no credit cards, no cheque orders – nothing. Sad, especially because T-Com has its own Pay Way service – an online credit card authorization in real-time. Maybe they'll implement that when they take off the "BETA" out of their logo.

All in all – really poor. Bad site design, poor user interface, weird and monopolistic payment method, insanely high prices and the limited range of songs and albums just don't make me want to use it. Thumbs up for the initiative, but two thumbs down for the implementation and the prices. At least for now.

The Da Vinci Code

Svibanj 30, 2006

Besides the concerts, I was in the cinema yesterday to see The Da Vinci Code. I've read the book a week or two after the Croatian translation was out of the press, and I have to say I'm not impressed – at all. Although the movie is better than the book (IMHO, of course), it's still far from what I'd call good. If you take away the controversial topics out of the book and the film, or simply view them as the main motivation for the whole story, I believe you have a less-than-average book and solid two and half hours of Hollywood entertainment. The ending is equally long and boring in both the book and the movie, but at least I don't have to read Brown's bad writing style in the movie.

Now, I won't deny the fact that the plot is certainly exciting (well, to one point at least), but it's a thriller – it would be even worse if it wasn't. And I'm not saying that Brown is a lousy writer (I haven't read any of his other works yet, so I can't judge him), but the book isn't really a masterpiece when it comes to the writing style. I certainly don't see any reason for the whole fuss around The Da Vinci Code. There are loads of other books and movies out there that deserve the attention of the public and have much more artistic value. Even with Tom Hanks in the lead role. :-) 

In Concert

Svibanj 30, 2006

Although it isn't the largest town of 'em all, Pula (the place where I live) isn't poor with concerts. The beautiful Amphitheatre sure has its share in that fact, but I'm rarely at concerts over there – the tickets tend to be expensive, and the artists involved aren't really the ones I'm dying to see (although Paco De Lucia will be playing in the Amphitheatre soon :)).

There is also a great deal of other, smaller concerts, but these are usually more interesting to me. In the last couple of weeks, the project Jazzbina, which is over 10 years old and is dedicated to the promotion of jazz music to the Pula audience, brought two very interesting bands to play.

The first of them was Marco Quarantotto Oddball Quartet. Marco Quarantotto is a drummer from Pula, involved in many different projects, with East Rodeo being the most important and well-known. With three great instrumentalists – Sava Miletić (piano), Elvis Penava (guitar) and Robert Jukič (bass), he played a range of interesting jazz (and even funk) pieces by artists like Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock and many others. The small number of people at the concert didn't discourage them and only made the overall atmosphere of the concert better.

The second, and maybe better know, was the Bojan Z Trio. Bojan Zulfikarpašić is a well-known European jazz pianist and the winner of the Hans Koller jazz award for the last year. And he sure deserved it :). With Ari Hoenig on drums and Remi Vignolo on contrabass, they played an incredible concert with many different pieces, ranging from blues to etno-jazz, without being boring for one second. Ari Hoenig is probably the best drummer I've seen live, and Remi Vignolo's solos are just amazing. Bojan's piano work is incredible and fascinating.

A few photos from the Bojan Z Trio concert can be found here.

Rockbox Testing

Svibanj 14, 2006

So, I finally got around to test the alternative iPod (and other MP3 player) firmware I was writing about a few times – Rockbox.

The installation is a breeze – just follow the instructions carefully. I tried it on both Windows 2000 and Ubuntu GNU/Linux and it simply worked. After you install the bootloader, you have to copy the software itself to your iPod. It's just copy/paste, so it's probably the easiest part of the installation. You have a selection of daily builds and CVS builds – I recommend the CVS builds. After that, you restart your iPod and it boots itself into Rockbox. 

If you're lucky, that is. Rockbox (for iPod, at least) is still in its early stages of development – it is buggy and crashes often. The CVS releases of the software from the last couple of days were so buggy I couldn't really use them – Rockbox wouldn't boot, or would just freeze while playing a song or using a plug-in. The most recent CVS release I downloaded today is better. Much better, I'd have to say. For now, Rockbox boots each and every time I start it, and it doesn't freeze that much on song playback. It's usable, so if you try to load Rockbox on your iPod, I recommend the latest CVS release of the Rockbox software.

My impressions are, for now, great. It allows me to just copy & paste the songs to my iPod and play them immediately. I missed that option most on my iPod and I'm glad someone decided to do something about it. As far as I can see, the sound volume in Rockbox is much higher than in the original firmware. That's probably OK for some users,  but I don't like my music too loud anyways. The plug-ins are also interesting – most of them are still in their early stages, but some of the games are addictive :). I still haven't tested the OGG playback, but I'll do it through the day.

The nice thing about Rockbox is that it allows you to boot into the default Apple firmware without much hassle – just hold "menu" during the start-up. That's a nice feature for everyone who wants to try Rockbox, but isn't really sure if it really suits his / her needs. 

All in all – in spite being a bit buggy, Rockbox is (in its most recent CVS version, at least) usable and interesting firmware for MP3 players. With a bit of bug-fixing, it'll make my iPod everything I ever wanted it to be – a bug-free music player with drag'n'drop support, many playback formats and a great interface. Bye-bye Apple firmware! :)

Rockbox for iPod Mini 1G

Svibanj 1, 2006

It seems that the iPod Mini 1G version of the Rockbox alternative firmware has been released. I don't have my iPod at hand currently, but I'll try it out ASAP and let you know how it works. I just hope the results will be better than on iPodLinux :-).