RANDOM THOUGHT #608

In college I knew a girl from Baton Rouge, and she had “the general Southern Accent”™. My best friend and I used to take her to a bar for Guinness pints. After the first pint the Louisiana twang would start coming out. By pint three she sounded like Justin Wilson:

By beer five it was half Justin Wilson, half backwoods French, and neither myself nor my best friend – nor anyone else for that matter – could understand what the fuck this girl was saying.

Spotify vs. Apple Music

So… back in June Spotify released a new version of their Android software. At first glace, it didn’t look so bad – mostly a huge PODCASTS tab added to the “My Library” page. Which makes sense: Spotify is pushing podcasts hard because they don’t have to pay royalties when you listen to them like they do with music.

Come to find out, it was way worse than that.

A quick refresher: in Spotify when you “save” an album to your library, you’re basically just saving a link to the music files on Spotify’s servers, like a browser bookmark. And Spotify’s Android app used to have a “My Library” page which had tabs for “Artists”, “Albums” and “Songs”. So if you saved 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe album to your library, “10,000 Maniacs” would then appear under “Artists”, In My Tribe would appear under “Albums”, and the songs from that album would appear under “Songs”. If you deleted the album, those entries went away. Simple, yes?

Spotify also has a “follow artist” feature. When I first joined the service in 2015, following an artist was how you got notifications that they had released new music. But Spotify’s notification system never worked that well, so they removed most of it. But they kept the “follow artist” feature, which folks in the Spotify Community said was for “shaping” the music in Spotify’s playlists. If the artists in your Discover Weekly or Release Radar playlists weren’t to your liking, follow a bunch of your favorite artists, they said, and your playlists would get better. And that seemed to be true.

So – here’s what Spotify’s June update changed:

– The “Artists” tab now only shows artists you follow. So if you add 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe to your library now, 10,000 Maniacs no longer appears under “Artists” unless you specifically tapped the “Follow” (or “Heart” icon), too. It’s effectively as if your iTunes install from 2008 suddenly lost the ability to sort music by artist, as if artist information was completely gone. There are lots of people who had been with Spotify since the service rolled out here in 2008 who never used the “follow” feature… and they pissed that Spotify, without telling anyone, emptied their “Artists” lists. These poor folks had to recreate their “Artists” lists by hand. It took some people days.

– The “Albums” tab still works as expected, but for reasons only God and Spotify’s developers know, they removed the alphabetical scroll bar. It used to be, if you wanted to listen to U2’s Zooropa, you’d tap “My Library”, “Albums” and “Z” to get pretty close. Now you have to scroll all the way down manually, like a medieval French peasant!

– It also used to be possible to save only some tracks from an album. So if you liked the sound of The Cars’ remastered Candy-O album but didn’t want all the demos and outtakes that come on that version, you could save just the album tracks but not the outtakes. No more – it’s all or nothing now.

– The “Songs” tab went away entirely, replaced by a “Liked Songs” playlist with all the songs from your old “Songs” tab, but now in totally random order! And since the songs are now in random order there’s no use for an alphabetical scroll bar, so they got rid of that, too. So instead of tapping “W” to get to Roxy Music’s “While My Heart is Still Beating” I now have to scroll through 3,719 songs listed in random order until I find it. Terrific!

– They also moved the “Recently Played” list from the My Library page to the Home page, and they removed all actions from it aside from “open”. It used to be that you could tap on an album or playlist in Recently Played and several options would appear: “Remove from this list” was great for hiding any trace of your secret Def Leppard obsession, “Queue” or whatever. By moving and neutering it, Spotify effectively got rid of a feature that tons of people used.

*     *     *

Needless to say, many users were pissed about all this. I was pissed enough to give Apple Music a try.

So… signing up for Apple Music seemed simple enough. But then I installed and opened the latest version of iTunes on my laptop… and now what? Spotify is a stand-alone app. You open it, and there’s Spotify. Apple Music is… buried somewhere in iTunes? Even though I was signed in to iTunes with the correct account there were no “Hey, we see you signed up for Apple Music! Here’s how it works in iTunes for Windows” prompt. Nothing. It took a few clicks, but I found it. And when I did, the selection was as expected. I looked through several of my more “problematic” artists, and Apple Music seemed to have the same library holes Spotify does: early Saint Etienne and Dramarama albums were missing from Apple Music, too.

Continue reading “Spotify vs. Apple Music”

QUICK REVIEW: Chromatics + Desire

Chromatics live

Chromatics
Desire
In Mirrors

Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA 05/15/2019

Few shows have set off my “teenage concert hype-meter” more than this. It’s the first time any of these bands have ever played my home city of Atlanta, which means it’ll be at least five years before they’ll even consider coming to my adopted home city of Charlotte. I asked the missus if she wanted to go. She said no. I decided I wasn’t missing the chance, so a solo trip it was.

Johnny Jewel is the heart and soul of almost all the bands on his label, Italians Do It Better. He’s a full-time member of Chromatics, Desire, Glass Candy and Symmetry. He produces and contributes to most of the rest. He does soundtracks to films. If you’re old enough to remember when Ivo Watts-Russell ran 4AD Records back in the 80s… it’s kinda like that.

So: In Mirrors kind of sounds like Washed Out, if Washed Out were kinda going for the Twin Peakysy, Stranger Things vibe most Jewel’s bands have.

This is a good tune. Sadly, lead singerJesse Taylor just looks… awkward on stage. The music sounded fine, but he barely spoke above a whisper between songs, and just looked uncomfortable overall. Just RELAX. Take a deep breath, dude. You’ve got this!

By the time Desire came out the crowd behind me had swelled… with Desire! Hahaha – I’ll show myself out. They kicked off with fan fave “Mirroir Mirroir”, then the even more popular “Don’t Call”. “If I Can’t Hold You” followed, which was a bit of a surprise (I was thinking it’d be “Tears from Heaven”. After that, the biggest surprise of all: they launched in to a cover of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” “just for this tour”:

[Sorry, the video was yanked from YouTube!]

The sound in the video doesn’t do it justice. I hope they release some version – live or studio – because it was fantastic!

And speaking of, you know how you go to tons of shows and it’s all cool and everything… but once in a while, for some unknown reason, you hear a song live and you’re like “HOLY SHIT I’VE HEARD THIS SONG A MILLION TIMES BEFORE AND IT NEVER SOUNDED LIKE THIS BEFORE ‘COS THIS IS AMAZING!”… that kind of thing?

Well, Desire closed out with their one hit “Under Your Spell”, made slightly famous by appearing in some commercials and the 2011 Ryan Gosling film Drive. The song was absolutely fucking amazing live. It’s like, they somehow tweaked it for the live show and it somehow made the song even better? All I know is, the crowd behind me went nuts, and I looked back at one point and it looked like the entire venue was jumping up and down. Honestly, it was the highlight of the show for me.

Desire live
Part of that is because Chromatics played a much different set than I thought they would. Which, looking back on it, was good. Basically, it wasn’t the playlist I woulda picked, but Jewel picked a much better one – more balanced, more theatrical, a much better “this is Chromatics” playlist than I woulda come up with:

Tick of the Clock
Lady
Night Drive/Paradise
Back From the Grave
I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around
Time Rider
These Streets Will Never Look the Same
Blue Girl
I Want Your Love
Cherry
Into the Black

Encore:
I’m On Fire
Shadow
Running Up That Hill

The band sounded fantastic, and the guys put on a really good show. I just wish we coulda heard more stuff from the (alleged) new album Dear Tommy. If you’re out of the loop on this one, Dear Tommy was supposed to come out in 2014. But Jewel destroyed all physical copies of it after a near-death experience in Hawaii. He decided it “wasn’t nearly good enough”, so he started all over again. 4 years ago. I don’t know what you’d call Chromatics – indie pop? electropop? Whatever it is, Dear Tommy has become the Chinese Democracy of its genre. As you can see from the playlist, the show ended with several covers, and it’s amazing that Ruth Radelet single-handedly got me to like a Bruce Springsteen song, for God’s sake.

Chromatics live

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough. It was a very good show, and I’m glad I went. The venue was nice – I go to shows there every 4-6 years and, oddly,  it somehow gets nicer every time. The staff were friendly and polite. I was one of the first x people through the merch line, so my t-shirt purchase ($25) was placed in a complimentary tote bag (normally $10) with two 12″ singles\EPs and an album inside, along with 5 folded posters. Nice! Too bad the “XXL” tour shirt is more like a Taiwanese L.

JIM MAKES: “Brie Butter”

Sorry for so many food posts lately… but let’s face it: once you get to be 48 years-old, your days of chasing women, drowning in whiskey and going on peyote-fueled vision quests with Jim Morrison’s ghost are over. So… FOOD IT IS, THEN!

“Compound butter” is what happens when you let butter sit out to soften, then mix in some stuff, then put the butter back in the fridge to firm up again. The “stuff” you put in the butter can be a liquid, like wine or honey (hmmmm… honey butter!). It can be spices and herbs, like the garlic-herb butter on top of your steak. But it can also be… cheese!

This post at The Takeout talks about “brie butter”. You just get 8 ounces of good Irish or French butter and an equal amount of brie cheese.

Brie Butter 2

Cut the rind off the brie, cut both into small-ish cubes, then mix in a food processor until it becomes a smooth paste. You’ll probably need to stop several times and push the butter\cheese mixture down the side of the processor bowl with a spatula, by the way.

Brie Butter

The traditional thing to do would be to put a thick line of the stuff on a piece of plastic wrap, then use the plastic wrap to form it into a summer sausage-sized log… which is why the garlic-herb butter you get on your steak at restaurants is often shaped as a perfect disc. But I’m lazy, so I just put mine into a Chinese takeout soup container.

Let me just say that this stuff is the Truth and the Light. And the post at The Takeout knocks it out of the park when it says:

Somehow, both ingredients come through in equal measure; it’s almost like they agreed to take turns. You get hit with the brie right up front, but then the cheese yields to its counterpart, giving way to a creamy, buttery finish.

They’re spot-on: the brie and butter somehow compliment each other perfectly, the flavor of one fading out while the other gently takes over. This stuff is absolutely delicious – sinfully delicious – and I’d recommend it to anyone!

JIM MAKES: “Burrito Bisquick Bake”

There was a ripple of excitement on the Internet last week. There’s a writer at The Takeout named Gwen, and recently she went through her friend Julie’s old family recipes. She noticed several 70s casserole classic recipes by someone named “Buggy”. Buggy had a recipe for a burrito-style beef casserole; it intrigued Gwen, so she shared it with everyone. People on message boards, Reddit and Facebook picked up on the recipe… so I decided to give it a try.

The recipe is at the link, but it’s pretty damn simple: brown a pound of ground beef; when done, drain, add taco seasoning and water per the package instructions. While that’s going on, mix a 16 oz. can of refried beans, a cup of Bisquick\Pancake mix and  ¼ to ½ cup of water in a large bowl. Make an even layer of the bean & Bisquick mix in a greased 9-10″ pie plate or oven-proof skillet. When the beef is done, pour it over the bean & Bisquick layer. Then pour a 15.5 oz jar of your favorite salsa over that, then top with your favorite shredded cheese. Bake at 350F for around 30 minutes.

Do that, and you end up with this:

Burrito Bisquick Bake

So… how is it? Meh. It’s not bad. It’s food, and it’s fairly tasty. But I ate it without any kind of emotion whatsoever. Ya know? Like, when I make Mom’s Tuna Casserole I feel a wave of childhood nostalgia. When I make Cracker Barrel’s hash brown casserole I almost feel like I’m cheating the system. I don’t feel anything like that when making Burrito Bisquick Bake. It’s just something to stuff in my face on a Tuesday night.

Burrito Bisquick Bake 2

Would I make it again? Sure. Why not? In fact, the reason I made it in the first place was because I already had most of the ingredients on hand, which is how 70s casseroles worked. But the jury is still out as to whether this would make my regular rotation.

QUICK REVIEW: Tapatío Seasoning

I hit the spice aisle at Walmart the other day for chili powder, when something caught my attention:

Tapatío Seasoning

Yes, it’s Tapatío powder. How is it?

Well, it tastes exactly like Tapatío sauce. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “expert analysis, Jim”. But hear me out: the fourth ingredient in this stuff – after salt, red pepper and garlic – is “vinegar powder”. And once the powder hits your tongue, it instantly rehydrates, so it tastes just like the sauce… albeit a slightly crunchy one, since the other crystals don’t melt at the same rate as the others.

So, I guess the market for this is anyone who wants the flavor of Tapatío sauce without the moisture that comes with it. Rimming margarita glasses with this instead of salt might be cool. I’m not a big fan of spicy popcorn, but sprinkling this over a bowl of popcorn would probably work a lot better than actual liquid sauce. It would also work with sandwiches being made ahead of time, like for a picnic or a tailgate – the powder has all the flavor, but doesn’t make the bread soggy. And I guess the powder might travel better – it can’t leak into a backpack, and since it’s not a liquid it’s TSA-friendly, right?

So that’s cool. But aside from the practical uses for the powder, I just don’t see a taste difference.

Uninstalling Android Apps via ADB

For decades, PC makers like Dell, HP and Lenovo have allowed third-parties to install trials and demos on new PCs. It’s all about money: the margin on most consumer computers is razor-thin… so if Symantec is willing to pay an OEM $5 per PC to install a Norton Antivirus trial, most PC builders are only happy to oblige. While an annoyance, this isn’t a big deal. After all, most of the time it’s easy to uninstall this junk, or wipe the hard drive and install a fresh copy of Windows without the bloat.

But it’s much more difficult to get rid of this sort of thing on smartphones. In some cases (looking at you, Facebook), you can’t really uninstall the software; the best you can do is disable it. But sometimes you can’t even do that. This is especially irritating since phones tend to have much less storage than a PC, and resetting your phone only brings all those apps back, with no way to uninstall them.

Or is there?

You can use ADB to uninstall most any app on your phone. It requires a couple of apps and some command-prompt work… but it can be done.

But before we get into the how of it, it’s important to know what you can uninstall. To be honest, I played around with alternate ROMs and rooting and all that stuff, but it’s been several years. But back then, the “rules” were this:

1) If the app you want to uninstall was available on the Google Play store, you can absolutely delete it… because you can always reinstall it from the store if need be.

2) Some apps – like the built-in email, calendar and SMS apps – should be left alone or, at most, disabled. This is because some third-party apps use parts of the default apps, and by uninstalling them, you can break the third-party app. Here’s a weird example: I owned a phone where the Samsung SMS app controlled the settings for Amber (and other) alerts. Since I prefer Google’s SMS app, I deleted the Samsung SMS app from my phone without thinking, and thus could no longer control those types of messages. I looked hither and yon on the Internet for a legit version of the original Samsung SMS app, but couldn’t find it. Thus, in order to get the app back I’d have to reset the phone and start all over again.

3) Lastly, if you don’t know what an app does, leave it alone. Deleting “Facebook” or “Google Slides” or “Dropbox” is a no-brainer; deleting “Android Services Library” is just asking for trouble.

So, having said that… how do you delete this junk off your phone?

The first thing you need is to download and install an app called App Inspector from the Play Store (be sure to get the linked one, by a company called Projectoria, not the identically named one by a company called UBQsoft).

Once installed, open it; it will scan all the apps on your phone. Tap each app you want to uninstall and note the “package name”:

App Inspector Chrome
(click to embiggen)

So, the package name for Chrome is com.android.chrome. Scroll through App Inspector and get the package names for the apps you want to uninstall.

Once you have a list of what you want to uninstall, you need to enable Developer Mode on your phone if it hasn’t been enabled already. To do this, go to Settings > System > About Phone. Rapidly tap “Build Number” 7 times – you’ll know you’re getting close when your phone starts saying “only 4 more taps to developer mode”.

The next step is to install Android Debug Bridge, commonly known as ADB. If you’re running most any version of Windows, you can watch this video for the complete how-to:

Here’s the webpage mentioned in the video, with written directions and the ADB link.

One last prep step on your phone: enable USB debugging. Go to Settings > System > Developer Options and enable USB debugging. BE SURE to turn this option OFF when you’re done.

So… you finally ready to uninstall this junk? Cool! Connect a USB cable to your computer, then connect your phone to the cable. The first time you do this you will probably have to wait a few seconds while Windows installs the driver for your phone. You will also get a prompt on your phone asking if you want to allow USB debugging. Tap “Always allow from this computer” (if you wish), then tap “OK”:

Allow USB Debugging

If you don’t see this prompt, check the notification area. If you still don’t see it, disconnect and reconnect your phone a couple times until you do.

Now, open a command-prompt in your ADB directory. In the YouTube video this was C:\ADB; on my computer it’s C:\Program Files (x86)\Minimal ADB and Fastboot. Once the command-prompt is open, type ADB shell. You should get a different prompt, like this:

ADB Uninstall 01

Type the following at the prompt EXACTLY as shown below:

pm uninstall -k --user 0 [package name]

then press ENTER. So, like this:

ADB Uninstall 02

You should get a SUCCESS message if the removal was successful. The above pic is from me trying to remove the Kindle Special Offers app from an Amazon tablet.

Here’s the command-prompt from when I (successfully) deleted a bunch of junk off my old Samsung phone:

ADB Uninstall 03

Note that in this case, instead of entering ADB Shell and typing the uninstall commands, I did both at the same time… which is something you can do if you prefer:

adb shell pm uninstall -k --user 0 [package name]

If you’re curious, the apps I uninstalled are (from top to bottom):

– the Samsung web browser

– Google Docs

– Google Duo

– Facebook

– Samsung App Store

– Google Play Movies & TV

– Samsung SMS app

– a Tracfone downloader (which allows you to download the service-specific app, like Total Wireless or Straight Talk)

– Google Photos

When you’re done, just unplug your phone from your computer, close the command-prompt on your PC, then turn USB debugging OFF on your phone. I always reboot for good measure, but this isn’t 100% required.

JIM MAKES: Boterkoek

Boterkoek (Butter cake) is a delicious treat from The Netherlands.

My favorite thing about it is its texture. It’s dense, but not hard. You’ve had pound cake before, yeah? You’ve had shortbread before, yeah? Boterkoek is somewhere between the two: not crunchy like a cookie, but solid enough that you can pick up a piece and eat it like a brownie, no fork or plate needed.

What’s more, the denseness of the cake means that it keeps for quite a while, so long as it’s kept in the fridge. I had a two-week old slice for dessert tonight and it was as good as the day I baked it!

But the best part of boterkoek is, anyone can make it. Trust me – I’m the worst baker in the world, and I can do this:

SOFTWARE

1 cup good butter, softened
1½ cups white sugar
2 beaten eggs
1 tablespoon almond extract
2½ cups AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

HARDWARE

1 electric mixer
1 small bowl
1 medium bowl
1 large bowl
1 spatula
1 fork or whisk
2 round 8″ cake pans (or even better, glass pie plates)

NOTES: Take the butter out of your fridge a few hours before you want to make the cake. Also, this is a terrific recipe to splurge on some nice European butter. Cultured butters from Ireland, France and Finland are readily available near me, and at Lidl and Aldi they’re competitively priced, too. Take the hint. Lastly, if you only have one pan or pie plate, fear not: later, when dividing the dough in half to make two cakes, simply put one half in a zip-top bag and put it in the fridge – it’ll be good for a couple days. You could probably freeze it too, but don’t quote me on that!

1) Preheat your oven to 350F.

2) Put the sugar and butter in the large bowl, then use the electric mixer to cream them. Don’t know what “creaming” is? Watch this:

You don’t need a stand mixer to do this – any electric hand mixer will work, you just have to move the mixer around in the bowl.

3) Beat the eggs in a small bowl, then add almost all of it to the butter and sugar (we need a tiny bit for the last step, so save a little). Mix for a few seconds with the mixer until incorporated, then add the almond extract and mix for a few seconds more. Put the mixer aside and use the spatula to scrape as much dough off the forks as you can.

4) Add the flour and baking powder to the medium bowl, and stir well with a whisk or fork to mix.

5) Slowly add the flour to the dough, adding a little bit, then stirring with a heavy-duty spoon, then repeating until the flour has been incorporated completely. As a warning, the dough will look very dry.

6) Grease the pans (or use Pam, if you’re lazy). Put half the dough in each pan or pie plate and press it into place.

7) Remember the leftover egg? Brush it across the top of the cakes. If you forgot to save some egg, just beat another one and brush it across the top of the cakes. Don’t go crazy though: a little bit is all you need!

8) OPTIONAL: You can put sliced almonds on the top, if you wish. It’s also traditional to drag a fork across the top of the cake, creating a design a bit like this:

Boterkoek

9) Bake at 350F for around 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and delicious!

Jim's Boterkoek

Let cool completely before serving. Keeps amazingly well in the fridge – just take a piece out just as you sit down to dinner and it’ll be delicious by dessert time!