August 28th, 2007


User Experience, my Aunt Fanny

Or similar mild oath that signifies disgust without triggering obscenity filters.

So, a while ago, I bought a pretty beefy Macintosh G5 Tower Pro machine. The idea was that somebody needed to write Power PC games for the starved Mac audience. And then Apple announced the Intel Mac line. There goes the starved Mac audience - or at least the odd cross section that wants to play games on their Mac, and are willing to upgrade to a new machine to do so.

Along the way, I bought and installed several pieces of software. Some of the software I bought on disk, some I bought through electronic distribution, what with not living in the stone age and all. The stuff I downloaded ranged from games to applications to music. You know, the fun stuff that Macs are all about.

And then came the time when the motherboard fried itself. I got it replaced right away, perhaps out of an inclination towards self-torture. Remember the chapter in the microeconomics textbook that talks about how monopolists get to charge whatever they want? Turns out, Mac G5 Pro motherboards are not priced competitively with Intel PC motherboards. Imagine that.

But I got the machine back, and it was working fine.

Until last week, when I started hearing beeps and clicks coming out of the hard drive.

I took it back to the Apple Store to get them to diagnose the problem and recover the data if they could. I got a phone call on Sunday (not even a full business day later) saying they had replaced the hard drive. Er, OK, I had authorized that, but really I wanted my data back, if possible. "Yeah, we put it on a test rack and it just beeped and clicked for a long time." Ok, fine.

So I picked up my machine, and I asked to get my dead drive back. "Um, we can't do that. It's a weird policy, but we have to return the drive." What? The drive that I came in here with, that you couldn't diagnose any better than I could, now you can't give back to me? If I wanted to send my drive to a data recovery service, you're saying I can't? That's sweet.

"Ok, how about my iTunes downloads - is there any way I can recover those?" "Yeah, click on 'report a problem' inside the iTunes store, and someone will reset your downloads so you can download them again." Again, this is a weird policy. I'm certain that it's a byzantine gerrymandered compromise between Apple and the RIAA, but I can't imagine it's accomplishing the intended goals.

And, really, let's think about the other software I purchased. I'm able to go back to everybody else's website and re-download the applications and games and the audiobooks without any hassle, it's just my music that's a needless difficulty.

So, at this point, I've clicked on "report a problem" a couple dozen times, to no avail. Sometimes I get a dialog box telling me that an error has occurred and to try again later. I've also submitted a problem report via Apple's website, which they said would be acknowledged right away via email, but I have yet to see an automatic acknowledgment email, much less a human response.

My current inclination is to reinstall as little as possible on that machine, as it's proven to be unreliable and ill-supported.

And why are there fewer games for the Mac again?

Good News after all that griping

I'm not saying it's great news, but still:

So, I downloaded something on my PC that said that it might be able to retrieve the contents from my iPod and insert it back into iTunes. Sadly, it would not work with my Mac-formatted iPod, unless I bought a $40 tool to allow me to read Macintosh filesystems. (And even then, it seemed dicey. And I like dice.)

So, I found Senuti (it's like iTunes, but backwards, get it?), which was able to yank a bunch of stuff off my iPod, including playlists, number of times I played each song/video/movie. Good stuff. However, iTunes seemed to think that the music videos and movies I downloaded weren't authorized for that machine. Each time iTunes would open up, it'd ask me if I wanted to transfer the licenses over to that machine. Several times I said that I would, since that would be a very simple way to get me back to where I was a week ago. Sadly, it silently failed to do anything.

I went several times (20? 30?) between Senuti and iTunes, and this process includes "ejecting" (surely there's a better name for preparing to unplug than that) the iPod, closing iTunes, unplugging the iPod, plugging the iPod back in, navigating around in Senuti, getting pissed off at the default window size, navigating to the "zoom" menu option (how does that not have a keyboard accelerator? Or a button on the window title bar?), finding stuff inside Senuti's view of my iPod that I want to drag into iTunes, crossing my fingers that Senuti doesn't crash. Or iTunes. Or something else. The comic strip that was saying that Macs don't crash is dead wrong, by the way.

But this is good news. I'm getting to it, really.

I finally went to my iTunes Store Purchase History, wrote down every single purchase I made longhand. (By the way, you can't cut and paste from the iTunes Store Purchase History view - who would want to do that?) I then went through my iTunes library to see how many of them had been stored on the (more reliable?) file server or had been recovered with all this Senuti nonsense.

It turns out that all of my music is back, which is a relief. Some of my playlists have been recovered, which is a luxury. I purchased a few albums from iTunes (including a few iTunes-only albums), for which there's a "correct" order for the songs. All of my playlists, including these albums, now are in random order, so there goes the integrity of the albums.

The stuff that's not back includes a handful of music videos, some standup comedy specials, and Tin Toy, an early Pixar short.

The files for most of these are actually on my new Mac hard drive, so they seem to have been retrieved to some level of fidelity - the filenames are correct, and the sizes seem plausible. If I try to launch them, iTunes silently ignores me. I would prefer a beep, a dialog box, a web page saying "you're trying to play a video file that has crazy DRM protections. If you're really you, click here to reset the DRM and have new versions sent to you". Or, just a beep.

As I'm thinking about buying my purchases all over again, I click on the "check for purchases" menu option. I don't know what the point of that menu option is - it seems like as soon as I connect to the iTunes Store, it could silently check for any purchases I might have made. (And why does it even need to check? Wouldn't we all know that I had made purchases? I'm pretty sure I would know. Even on Ambien, in the middle of the night, when I'm driving around, talking on my cell phone, asleep, I'm pretty sure that iTunes wouldn't have to check to see if I had made any purchases.)

So I clicked on that menu item, and all of a sudden, the "downloads" item lit up with 134 items to download. Zounds.

So, I think I'm going to get my Maria Bamford Stand Up special again, and Tin Toy, and "Karla With a K". And, just maybe, as a side effect of re-downloading the whole shebang, my album downloads might be in the correct order. That would be crazy.

In any case, I'm still gunshy about iTunes. I'm going to burn my downloads off onto DVD (not to play in a DVD player, just because 4.7GB is better than 700MB).

And that Tango song I was going to buy to practice to? I'll probably just get the CD from Amazon.

I heard a rumor that Google is gearing up to sell music. I wonder if I will find it less hateful.