It’s been a long road and we feel that we have come a long way in solving this problem. We are elated to announce the next step in this journey: Loom is becoming a part of the Dropbox family. We look forward to this transition as the next step in creating a home for all of your photos and videos, seamlessly organized, while still keeping them at your fingertips. With Carousel, Dropbox has created a gallery for your life’s memories. It’s a single home for all your photos and videos, automatically organized and always with you.
I had tried Spotify before using Unblock-Us, but I couldn’t sign up to the service with a Brazilian credit card. Anyway, having to organize my song collection through the exclusive use of playlists was a major deal breaker, and I had decided to stick to Rdio, even though the Spotify catalogue seemed better suited to my tastes, from my limited experience.
While Spotify’s collection feature is a great addition, which finally makes the service usable for me, it’s still inferior to Rdio’s implementation.
On the Mac, you can view a grid of artists, but once you choose a particular artist, all you get is a list of songs which are sorted by album. Rdio on the other hand offers the possibility to view a more compact list of artists on the side, while offering a grid view of an artist’s albums, which can be toggled to a list view of songs sorted by album.
On iOS, there is no grid view, but the same problems hold. Once you are viewing you album collection, there is no way to filter by artist. If you navigate to an artist, you can only see the list of songs by that artist. There’s no way to see a list of albums.
On the mac, I also find the album covers in the grid view too large. Using the Spotify app on full screen on my 13" Retina Macbook Pro, I can see 4 albums per row. Comparing that to iTunes, which shows 8 albums in a row I find it much easier to browse my collection on iTunes than on Spotify. While Rdio shows only 5 albums per row at most on my laptop screen, it’s not as much of a problem since there’s the ability to filter the album grid by artist, which is what is actually lacking in Spotify.
As a side note, I also enjoy Rdio’s lighter style over Spotify’s predominantly black design.
As to pricing, Spotify is currently cheaper, with its premium plan at $5.99 per month. Rdio’s unlimited plan is currently priced at $9.99 per month.
With all that said, even though I find the Rdio app superior, the choice of services is no longer a no brainer. Spotify’s new collection feature, while lacking in several aspects, is good enough to make me seriously consider it over Rdio. The defining factor is no longer the apps, but the catalogues offered by each service.
The dreadful licensing issues continue to be present, limiting the experience for international users on Spotify, and all similar services. It’s one thing if an artist or label decides not to distribute its content through streaming services at all, or licenses exclusively to a single service. However, regional limitations for availability of specific pieces of content feel artificial and are poisonous to the TV, music and movies industry. It is an artifact of a time before content distribution had the means to be as ubiquitous at it is today. It has to go. ↩
I've been considering writing more about my software development related explorations, much like Brent Simmons does in his own blog. The main difference (other than the fact it'll probably take a good while until I can reach Brent level quality) would be I'd do so on this website, but on a different page and feed.
I am not set on this. I'll give it some thought in the next few days.
Almost one year ago, on April 20th, I wrote on this blog for the first time. Since then, I've posted 33 times, mostly linking to posts from other authors and adding a comment. While the number of posts, both links and original content, has been less than ideal, it's pretty much on par with what I expected from my first year.
I had wanted to write online for a long time before I finally started, and while I have yet to build an audience, the experience has been satisfying in a number of ways.
First, writing online forces me to not only have my own opinion about the subjects I'm interested in, but to stand by it. This made me a more thoughtful reader overall.
Second, I've obviously been practicing my writing more. Since I chose to write in English, it doesn't hurt that I brush up on my language skills either.
Third, and more importantly, it made me want to write more. It's often said that people who think they'd love to write, are generally just enamoured with the idea of writing. The only way to know if you'll like it is to actually do it consistently and see if you enjoy it.
While my writing here has been far from consistent, it has been enjoyable. As such, I'll stick to it, write more than ever, and see where it goes.
In the years that followed, that PC and the ones that came after it became central to my life. I used a computer for all the regular stuff such as schoolwork, games and IM, as well as learning to play songs on my guitar and tinkering with web design. I later got my first Mac, got serious about programming and started making a career out of it.
Through a significant portion of my childhood and all of my teenage years, I spent countless hours in front of a computer (probably, a lot more than was healthy, which, combined with my intense guitar playing, got me a mild case of RSI by the time I was 17). For a long time, one person wasn’t very happy with this state of affairs: my mother.
My mom didn’t understand computers. More than that, she didn’t like them, or, in her words, she hated them. She repeatedly said she didn’t want to learn to use computers. She really didn’t want anything to do with them. Specially, she didn’t like the fact that I spent so much time using them.
Very slowly, she started to give in. Some of her friends started getting e-mail accounts, and eventually she decided she wanted one. For a while, she still would ask me or my dad to check it for her and type her messages. Then, I taught her how to use instant messaging, she started browsing for news, did some audio and video chat on Skype and got into Orkut (it used to be pretty popular in Brazil) and later, Facebook.
At this point, my mom was actually proud of what she could accomplish. So much so that I convinced her to stop typing all in caps by telling her that people who read it would think she wasn’t good with computers. I had been in college for a while, and she had the computer all for herself most of the time. Even when I was home, I’d use exclusively my MacBook. However, there was still the occasional problem. She still needed help with mail attachments, she didn’t manage files at all (most of her stuff was kept inside the same folder) and crappy Windows alerts would still freak her out from time to time. Also, introducing any new activity for her to do on the computer took a lot of getting used to: adding favourites for easy access, teaching how to navigate the often cluttered web pages and many other hassles. This was a slow process, which slowly took place through the course of almost 15 years.
Then, in 2011, I got an iPad 2.
I bought it for myself. But I barely used it. I showed it to my mother and she fell in love instantly. Needless to say, I had to go mostly without an iPad until I bought a new one. 
Fast forward to today, my mom uses the iPad for everything she previously used the PC for, and a lot more. She watches Brazilian soap operas on the web. She plays the occasional card game. She watches movies on Netflix and iTunes, which she figured out all on her own how to browse the catalogues and how to add subtitles to non Brazilian movies. More importantly, she enjoys herself a lot more. There is no frustration, no insecurity (“should I click Yes or Cancel?”). She is willing to experiment more and discovers something new regularly. It didn’t take her 10 years to get used to the iPad.
Yesterday, I introduced her to Duolingo. I created her an account, walked her through a lesson and handed her the iPad back. She is now learning English. She actually cheered when she completed her second lesson in a row, with no mistakes.
Pretty magical, indeed.
Even though streaming services for both music and video have been around for a while, the state of affairs is that content licensing is subject to territory restrictions. One of the practical implications is that Netflix Brazil's catalogue is not the same as it is in the US, or in the UK for that matter.
Now, none of these catalogues are inherently better or worse. If I want to watch American TV shows, the US catalogue is the obvious choice, but Brazilian TV shows are mostly available only on the Brazil catalogue. However, if I want to watch, say, The Hobbit, I'd better be in either the UK or Ireland catalogues. Subtitle and audio options also differ by region, so if I want to watch a movie with someone who needs Portuguese subtitles, we're mostly stuck with the Brazilian catalogue. It is a mess.
When it comes to music though, things aren't that complicated region-wise. I will take the US catalogue over the Brazilian one for any of the major services. Most (though not all) Brazilian artists available on our catalogue are also available on the United States, but the converse is frequently not true. However, some of the services aren't available in Brazil, notably Spotify and MOG - which has been stagnant but might see a revamp next year. While the catalogues for these different services are roughly equally large, there are significant differences such as Spotify recent licensing of Led Zeppelin as well as being the only to feature all of Metallica's albums.
Of course, content unavailability on certain territories has been a solved problem for a while, through the use of VPNs. Those, however, significantly compromise connection speed both while using the services affected and during regular browsing. More recently, DNS based unblock solutions have proved to be an improvement, by enabling only traffic to the affected services to be redirected, while also allowing to constantly switch Netflix regions to enjoy different catalogues.
None of the above is big news for anyone, and, unless you're confortable with outright pirating of content and could care less about streaming movies and music legally, you're probably aware of everything I wrote so far. Of course, the legality of tricking such services to believe you are in a different territory than you really are can be argued, but definetely not by me, since I'm not equipped to engage in such discussion. I can only make the case that I'm paying for the content to the providers, which are paying the copyright owners their share. That is enough to make me feel okay about it, but I'd be happy to hear different thoughts on this.
In the last two months, two events have given me the incentive I needed to jump through the hoops required to set everything I needed up. First, I bought an Apple TV. Second, I started working from home. The Apple TV made me want to switch Netflix catalogues easily to watch in the evening. Working from home made it possible to actually rely on streaming to fuel my severe music dependency during the workday.
After a little research, there were two major recommended solutions. Adfreetime, at $1.99 per month, and Unblock-Us at $4.99. Most of what I read suggested Adfreetime was better all around, and, being it cheaper, it was a no-brainer to go with that. Everything is pretty easy to setup, as they provide guides for each internet connected device you may own, as well as a guide to setup the router directly, which would obliviate the need to configure each device individually. Though it is very easy to setup, there is no easy way to verify things are working other than trying to access the services you knew you couldn't before or compare Netflix catalogues while switching back and forth. Other than this minor annoyance everything seemed ok.
After a few weeks of use, a few drawbacks emerged. On the movie side of things, switching Netflix regions worked fine on the desktop, but my Apple TV would take a while to reflect the changes, taking it multiple reboots, and some switching back and forth. Most of the time, after a region switch it would return an error message that told me Netflix was unavailable at the momment. I figured it was the Apple TV's fault, and decided I could live with that and plan my region switches ahead.
On the music side of things, the unlock provided by Adfreetime doesn't include Spotify. That shouldn't have been an issue, since according to their website, they supported both MOG and Rdio. Now, I had tried Rdio before on the Brazilian catalogue, but I was turned off by the lack of many artists I wanted to listen to. MOG had never been available to me, so I decided to give it a shot. While the sound quality was great, and I was pretty satisfied with the catalogue, I didn't enjoy the app's design in any of the available forms, web, iOS or desktop. Collection management also seemed clumsy and browsing my favorites was confusing. I remembered Rdio's apps being really good about that, and knowing it is usually highly praised, I decided to give it another shot, now on the US catalogue. However, even though my Adfreetime service was setup correctly and otherwise working, I was still stuck with the Brazilian catalogue. I tried, without success to create a new account, but there was no way Rdio would believe I wasn't located in Brazil. I tried contacting Adfreetime's support, but they couldn't clarify this. I canceled my subscription and decided to try Unblock-Us.
I'm currently on my one-week trial, but I am very likely to subscribe by the end of it, regardless of the price difference. The setup experience was a breeze. Unblock-Us, very similarly to Adfreetime, offers per-device guides. It also lets you know if you've set everything up correctly with no need for accessing the services to verify it. I now have full access to Rdio's US catalogue (though I had to start a new subscription), and while it does offer Spotify, I can only use its free plan, since none of my payment methods are accepted (much like the iTunes US store, which will only take a credit card with an US billing address). I'd love to try Spotify, but I guess it's out of question. As to Netflix on the Apple TV, turns out that region switchs are now reflected on the catalogue almost instantly, with no reboot required.
I am sure Adfreetime will eventually improve on these aspects, but I guess for now I'll stick with Unblock-Us.
I wish every app reviewer out there would point out to their readers how incredibly inexpensive any quality app is. Perhaps that would lead to a future where people would realize that an app that costs as much as a muffin and a cup of coffee is nowhere near expensive. Turns out, whether any of the apps mentioned above were priced at $3.99, they'd still be fairly priced.