Monday, 6 August 2012

Albums I'm looking forward to...

It just dawned on me that there are a few albums I'm actually quite looking forward to purchasing listening on Spotify in the next few weeks. So, what better way to present my wishlist than in this section below?

In chronological order...

Misty Eye Aiden Grimshaw
Out 20 August 2012

Misty Eye by Aiden Grimshaw

Already one of my favourite X Factor dropouts (yeah, that's right, Olly Murs! Take that!), Aiden's already made the charts with his first single, "Is This Love". So clearly, there is still some love for this guy. After leaving the competition and going under the radar for quite a while, perhaps doing a bit of soul-searching and finding what direction to take, it's good to see him make a comeback, and to return with an album that plays to his strengths - the raw vocals, the emotions brimming through. He's probably relieved that it's not "Queen vs Gaga Week". With a second single and debut album coming soon, there's quite a bit to look forward to from Mr Grimshaw.

ORA by Rita Ora
ORA Rita Ora
Out 27 August 2012

After lending her vocals to the chart-topping DJ Fresh track "Hot Right Now", and following that with her own Number 1 "R.I.P.", you could say she's done quite well for herself (so far, at least). After hearing the stuff she's released so far, I'm quite looking forward to her album, just to see what direction she's taking with it - we know she can do loud, we know she can do heart-pumping dance numbers, but will she do anything else? August 27 is the date when we'll find out. Either way, she'll probably do quite well with this album, riding on the momentum of her chart successes. 

Beacon Two Door Cinema Club
Out 2 September 2012

Beacon by Two Door Cinema Club

Following the brilliant debut album "Tourist History" (which, in spite of its frequent usage in VTs and TV adverts, I still love) back in 2010, the band has finally cobbled something together for release next month. No previews, apart from their first single from the new album, "Sleep Alone". Judging from this track, seems like the new album will carry on with the same style of music as the first album - so fans shouldn't worry too much, then. They're a great indie alt rock band, and they're right up my street - to be honest, I'm just glad that they're finally releasing some new stuff!

Coexist The XX 
Out 10 September 2012

Coexist by The XX
Mercury Prize Award-winning indie band The XX. Coming off their self-titled debut album from 2009, the music world is celebrating and anticipating this hot new release from these Londoners who have developed some sort of music identity or signature that is unique to them - tracks that sound soft and quiet, with bits of silence here and there, but yet, they captivate the listeners with the deep and dark sounds that were (apparently) made in the middle of the night in a garage (they didn't want to disturb their neighbours, you see). It's become their forté (no pun intended there), and to hear that they are back, it can only be good news for music lovers everywhere.

Babel Mumford & Sons
Out 24 September 2012

Babel by Mumford and Sons
Word has gone out that Mumford & Sons will be back with a new album on later next month. Not much was spilled on what the album will be about, or what it would sound like. But as you may remember, their sounds were quite apt for the autumn season (I blame the banjos), so here's one to look forward to later in the year. 

So, there you have it, the 5 albums I'm looking forward to between now and the end of September...

Saturday, 4 August 2012

New Laptop Time...

So, it's that time of the electronic product life cycle when I should start thinking about replacing the piece of metal and plastics with which I'm composing this blog post on - my beloved, trusty MacBook Pro 5,1 (Late 2008 model).

A few reasons why I want to move on to a new laptop...

1. It's aged to the point where my experience of using it has become slightly annoying.

  • It's 3.33 years old (so my 3-year AppleCare Plan has expired).
  • The RAM on this system has been maxed out at 4GB, and trust me, between Lightroom, Photoshop, Audition, and I can use all 4GB. (I've heard that I can install 8GB on this Mac, but Apple officially only supports 4GB, and I'm going to let someone else do the experimenting if they wish to).
  • I refuse to install an SSD on this thing just because any performance gains I expect from splurging £x will be bottlenecked by the choke of my SATA II connection (and for reasons that you will see later on, I might be incurring an unnecessary expense if I do carry on with upgrading to an SSD)
  • The battery life is weak. And I genuinely mean weak. Even after I spent US$129 on a new battery pack last year (yes, this is one of those Macs with the user-replaceable battery packs), I'm struggling to get past 2 hours of lectures on a single charge (imagine my horror if I have back-to-back lectures in rooms where plugs are scarce!)
  • Call me paranoid, but with the noises that the Hard Drive has been making from time to time, I dread to think of when it will just fail on me one day. I won't be surprised if my cycling (plus, I suspect that the lid opens and closes during my commute sometimes) is killing the internal drive.
2. In spite of what I said above, my MacBook Pro still has some resale value to it - it works fine (even for Photoshop or Aperture work). It's a sturdy, reliable machine that has only GSOD'ed on me once, and it still retains ridiculously long uptimes up till now. And bar a missing black soft cushion piece at the bottom, it's (arguably) the best MacBook Pro around, partly due to the high repairability of this system, and the availability of the very underrated ExpressCard slot. (USB 3? Card reader? No problem!)

3. Student discount: This is probably the last year I'll qualify for student discounts (unless I make it to a Masters Programme).

4. The specs in the current MacBook lineup are not too shabby. Kepler graphics, Ivy Bridge (with those much-hyped 3D transistors), USB3 + Thunderbolt, SSD options (within the top-end of my budget, after student discount). If I want to be future-proof for at least the next 3 years, this is a good base to start from.

So, that's my case for changing my laptop.

Now, let the Ron meet the Macs (bad pun intentional.)

There's one outright flagship Apple product in their Mac lineup right now. If you went to Apple's MacBook Pro page, it's the only one you'll see - the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. (subtext to this is: Apple is saying that if you want to buy the other MacBook Pros, you're buying a leftover - like buying an iPhone 3GS when the 4S is out. Except for the fact that the prices on the "inferior" models haven't dipped at all, as far as I can see).

I have to say, the reality distortion field must have worked on me, because man, do I want a Retina MacBook Pro (rMBP) more than the standard MacBook Pro (MBP). The thin 2.04kg slab of power, with Flash drives standard, beautiful display, and "asymmetrical fans" (honestly, they couldn't bring this down to the rest of the notebook lineup?).

There's one spec that has been catching my attention, though - the 2880x1800 Retina IPS Display. Or, more to the point, how well third-party apps will work on this display.

It has come to my attention that all the Apple marketing/photos seem to show Apple-only software that have been updated to support the retina display - Lion/Mountain Lion, Final Cut Pro, Aperture, iPhoto, etc.

Now, that is nice and all, but that got me wondering - what about apps that I use on a day-to-day basis? Adobe Audition, Photoshop, Lightroom? Microsoft Office? Chrome? Spotify? In short, how long will these apps be updated to look how they should on the retina display?

I have been reading on this issue, and it appears that most Cocoa apps can be ported to the Retina display quite easily and quickly - that bodes well for Chrome, which is based on the Cocoa API. But what about apps that are still relying heavily on Carbon APIs, which have now been deprecated in Mountain Lion? Apps like Microsoft Office, for example. With the exception of Outlook, it appears that Microsoft Office is largely reliant on Carbon APIs at its core (thankfully, they have moved some of their UIs over to Cocoa, albeit in a haphazard manner leading to some questionable UI decisions made at Redmond).

I fear that we may have a long wait before Microsoft will get their act together to release a Cocoa-based Microsoft Office with support for all that is good in OS X - 64-bit (and with that, security), HiDPI, etc. Until then, Office will look pixelated on the Retina display. Worse still, no word has come out from Adobe or Microsoft on when they will release updates on Retina-enabled apps. Adobe has committed Adobe Photoshop to be Retina ready, but no timeline has been released for PS, let alone the rest of their Creative Suite. Microsoft's last words on updates were that they will support LION (read: Not Mountain Lion, so this was a year ago) features such as Autosave and Versions.

As much as Apple is pushing leaps and bounds above their competitors with regards to hardware, the support that the OS X platform is getting from their major software developers are not as breathtaking - if anything, it's disappointing. Perhaps it's Apple's fault, given their habit of secrecy and non-disclosure agreements. Maybe this has given developers mixed messages, maybe they are confused as to how they should be developing for Apple's platform. But then again, a platform is nothing without a great ecosystem. As much as Apple looks down on Microsoft and Adobe, they are major parts of this ecosystem, and they are there to stay (well, maybe not Microsoft, given that their commitment to the Mac platform and to new releases of Office for Mac ended last year). With the lack of developer support for HiDPI and the Retina Display on the MacBook Pro, I might hold off buying the MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

To sum up...

Retina MacBook Pro

+ Future-proof
+ Thinner, lighter and lightly to be more durable than the standard MacBook Pro (SSD FTW!)
+ Beautiful screen
+ Kills off legacy technology - HDD, Optical drive

– Lack of third-party HiDPI support means unsupported apps will look pixelated on this screen
– Lack upgradeability or repairability, with its non-standard and soldered parts
– Expensive. Very expensive.
– Lack of certain ports that I'd use (Ethernet, Audio In)

Standard MacBook Pro

+ Cheaper (ish)
+ Upgradeable (ish) (SSD?)
+ Everything you need is there (even FW800!)
+ No issue from lack of retina support

– Feels like an older product (or in my case, my current laptop)
– Heavier