Fast Apple Customer Support

Today I bought the 24 song, 2.3 hour-long Van Halen record Live: Right Here, Right Now from the iTunes store. But there was a snag: “Why Can’t This Be Love?” failed with an error -100000. I tried restarting it a couple of different ways, but each time it would download it, then restart, three or four times, until it would finally choke with error -100000. I even downloaded the album on a Windows machine and 23 songs downloaded fine, but that one track failed with the same error. This pretty much proved to me that it was a problem on Apple’s end. I then went to my account in the iTunes store and reported an error with the track.

I received an auto-response pretty quickly with some things to try, but nothing useful. An hour or so later, I got an email from a human at Apple that basically told me to try what I had already tried and to let them know if I was still having problems, as well as providing some other info like ISP, Internet connection type, etc. I emailed them back with the details they asked for, and told them what all I had tried, including trying to download to another machine. I wondered how hard it was going to be to convince them that the problem was on their end.

A couple of hours later, I received another email, this time from a different human. I immediately assumed I would have to re-explain everything. Much to my surprise, this is what the email said:

I understand that you are unable to download the song “Why Can’t This Be Love” as your [sic] getting error -1000000. I know how eager you are to have this resolved at the earliest. I will be glad to assist you today.

Joey, please accept my sincere apologies for the frustration this download has caused. I took the liberty of removing the file causing the issue from your download queue. To give Apple time to investigate the issue and make any corrections that may be necessary, please wait at least two weeks before repurchasing this title.

I have issued a replacement song credit to your account. You can use the credit to buy a song of your choice from the iTunes Store.

So, while it kind of stinks that it could be two or more weeks before I can get the track replaced, it’s nice that they refunded me the money for the track so quickly. That’s nice, fast, customer service.

Xcode 4.1 Not Installing? Try This.

Apple released OSX Lion earlier today, but Xcode 4.0.2 is not compatible with it. Later in the day, they released Xcode 4.1 for Lion through the Mac App Store. I saw some comments from people saying that at about 80% of the way through the installation, they got a popup telling them they needed to quit iTunes in order to continue, but iTunes wasn’t running. They were unable to continue.

Here’s what they missed: iTunesHelper. This is an additional iTunes process that is running, even when iTunes proper is not. It’s there so that when you attach an iOS device, it can fire up iTunes for you.

Go into Activity Monitor and find iTunesHelper. Select it, and then kill it. After a second or two, the “you need to quit iTunes” dialog will go away, and the installation will complete.

American Idol Switcheroo on iTunes

If you watched Idol last week, you were treated to a bunch of mediocre renditions of classic Motown songs, plus a stunningly beautiful re-imagining of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears.” Adam Lambert is the one who pulled off that coup. He sang with an acoustic guitar, upright bass and slapboard-drum-type-thing, and it was so tender and gorgeous and moving. If he continues with performances like that and his brilliant reworking of “Ring of Fire,” he’s going to go all the way.

Ryan Seacrest makes a point of saying that you can buy recordings of the contestants’ performances on iTunes, so I tried to do just that last Thursday. Unfortunately, last week’s performances weren’t available yet. I tried again this morning and they were. But what they are selling is not what you heard on the show. I went directly to the link for Adam’s “Tracks Of My Tears” and when I previewed it… WTF?!? Gone is the simple rhythm section and Adam’s tender vocals. Instead, you get Adam doing karaoke vocals over the original recording’s instrumentals. That is not what I wanted in the song, and given the comments from 587 other fans, not what most people want. Idol pulled this same switcheroo last year with Jason Castro‘s performance of Brudda Iz‘s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” In Jason’s case, however, the tenderness of his singing and his ukulele playing were left intact and you couldn’t really tell it was not the same performance that you saw on the show.

The people who are really upset are those who prepaid for the song. I know I would be too. This should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who is thinking of preordering any Idol performances in the future. There’s no way I’d pay in advance for anything from Idol now.

By the way, if you’re technically inclined, you can buy the video of his performance that was so beautiful and then rip the audio track into its own mp3 file. That’s what I’m going to do. But you shouldn’t have to do this. Idol should be selling what we heard on the show, not a studio do-over. I don’t have a problem with them also selling the studio do-over, but what people want and expect to get is what they heard on the show.

I Am Full of Teh Happy

Yesterday was a good day for me on several fronts. Let me tell you them.

First, whilst searching for various things in the iTunes store, I saw that Metallica had released their new album, Death Magnetic. I had bought the first single, My Apocalypse, a couple of weeks ago when it came out, and I was excited that Metallica might be good again. I was a Metallica fan from way back in the 80’s. I loved, loved, loved every album up to and including …And Justice For All. I didn’t like “the black album” at all for several years, but then it grew on me. I thought everything after that, starting with Load, sucked out loud. I listened to the samples of the new album and immediately clicked the “Add to Cart” button. I’ve listened to the whole album about 5 times now, and it’s playing again as I write this. This album is full of awesome. It’s fast and heavy with glorious Kirk Hammett guitar solos throughout. If you liked “old” Metallica, you will love this album. Buy it. Memorize it. Love it. Standout songs include “My Apocalypse,” “Broken, Beaten & Scarred,” “The Judas Kiss” and “All Nightmare Long.” 

I was also happy to see that iTunes had finally added 0 + 2 = 1 by the very strange band NoMeansNo. I had this as a cassette, back when it was originally released, but I haven’t been able to find it in any format since. iTunes had one or two NoMeansNo records, but not this one. I have been checking periodically, but they never had it. Until yesterday. I’ve listened to it twice since buying it. It’s heavy and a bit odd, but very good. “0 + 2 = 1″ and “The Valley Of the Blind” are the best songs on the record.

And if that weren’t enough musical goodness, Dar Williams’ new album, Promised Land, was also available. I think this is one of her best albums ever. I have her entire catalog, and this album has already moved to the top of the list for me. It has her signature lyrical twists, and it’s quite upbeat, with beautiful melodies. I’ve only listened to it twice since buying it, but it’s really good. My favorite songs, so far, are “It’s Alright,” “Buzzer” and “Troubled Times.”

Yes, I have eclectic musical tastes.

Next, as anyone with an iPhone knows, Apple released iPhone OS 2.1 yesterday. I was really looking forward to this update because OS 2.0.2 had lots (and lots) of problems and annoyances. The biggest problem I had was with how long it took to backup the phone. Every time I plugged it into my Mac, it would easily take over an hour to do a full sync. That’s absurd. I have less than 2 gigabytes of stuff on the iPhone and it took one-hour+. I have 60 gigabytes of stuff on my iPhone, and a sync never takes more than a few minutes. The other major annoyances were a terrible lag when using the onscreen keyboard, and the fact that when you updated an application, it didn’t stay where you put it, instead moving to the first available open spot. Not good. 

I’m very happy to report that iPhone OS 2.1 has fixed these problems, for me, anyway. A full sync is taking around five minutes, which is completely reasonable. The keyboard feels responsive, and after updating applications, they stay where I put them. Bravo, Apple. Keep the goodness coming, KTHX.

And finally, the first two discs of season 3 of Weeds arrived from Netflix. I watched the first three episodes last night, staying up far, far too late in the process. Damn, I love this show, even though I know I shouldn’t like it, if you know what I mean.

My First Impressions of iTunes 8 “Genius”

After Apple announced iTunes 8 yesterday, I downloaded and installed it, eager to see the new “Genius” feature. This feature had been rumored to be similar to Pandora, the wonderful service that finds you more music based on what you already like and don’t like. In actuality, Genius has two parts. The first is the “Genius Sidebar” which shows you songs from the iTunes store that “match” or in some way go with the songs currently selected in your library. The second part generates playlists based on a song selection. You select a song, click the Genius button, and it generates a playlist of songs from your music library.

Since I have such varied tastes in music, I decided to give the sidebar a whirl. I selected “Rock This Town” by Stray Cats and checked my results. Expecting to see other rockabilly bands, I was a bit surprised to see the top three results:

  1. The Romantics: What I Like About You
  2. Kiss: Strutter
  3. Mötley Crüe: Shout At the Devil

I guess they went with 80’s bands instead. The rest of the list included Billy Idol, Jane’s Addiction, Cheap Trick, and others whose heyday was in the 80’s.

I then selected “You and Me and Rainbows” by The Tear Garden. I was shocked to see the top recommendation was a song by Jessica Simpson, but then I saw the text at the top saying that they couldn’t find anything based on that song, but here’s the list of top songs at the iTunes store right now. Reassured that the Genius was not a moron, I carried on.

I then selected “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Genius did a good job with this one. 

  1. Jimmy Dean: Big Bad John
  2. Marty Robbins: El Paso
  3. Hank Williams: Your Cheatin’ Heart
  4. Roger Miller: Dang Me

In this case, not only did it match the generation, but it also matched the genre and feel of the song pretty well.

I then tried several Tom Waits songs. Most of the results involved Neil Young, Tom Petty and Nick Cave, none of whom I like. Based strictly on which songs I was picking, I don’t think the matches were very good. You could argue that the bands gained fame at roughly the same time, but Tom Waits’ style(s) don’t really match with the recommendations, in my opinion.

Pressing on, I selected “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” by Tony Bennett. The top recommendations were:

  1. Fred Astaire: Puttin’ On The Ritz
  2. Frank Sinatra: Nice ‘n’ Easy
  3. Bobby Darin: Call Me Irresponsible
  4. Ella Fitzgerald: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Good selections. What I like most about the first one is that this Tony Bennett album was a collection of songs made famous by Fred Astaire. Thus, having an Astaire song as the first hit seems very genius-like.

Next, I selected “Quicksand” by Abdel Wright, a Jamaican singer who does mostly folksy, protesty songs. I don’t understand the results from Genius, which included Maia Sharp, North Mississippi Allstars and Kyle Riabko. The Duhks were also included with a cover of Sting’s “Love Is the Seventh Wave.” None of these songs/artists share a style with Wright, and I didn’t detect any degree of protest in the thirty second clips. Curious.

Finally, I tried two songs by Afro Celt Sound System: “Deep Channel” and “Lovers of Light.” The results for “Deep Channel” were mostly Indian-influenced groups, which don’t really fit, but weren’t awful. The results for “Lovers of Light” were much better, including a song by Baka Beyond, which was very similar musically. These results rather impressed me, as this band bends and blends styles.

So far it’s hit or miss with Genius. I haven’t used the playlist-generation feature much yet. At this moment I’m listening to a Genius-generated playlist based on “Deep Channel” and I’m not too sure about these results. 

Click to see larger image

Some of the results seem OK, but not all. I can only assume that as more people use Genius, the results will get better. For now, if you’re looking for recommendations, you should probably rely more on Pandora than Genius.

Why Can’t I Install iPhone Apps Via iTunes?

09/15/2008 Update: I wrote this article back in July, right after iPhone OS 2.0 was released. You’ll notice from the update on 08/01/2008 that I figured out what was going on. But since so many people keep asking, let’s establish something once and for all:

YOU CANNOT RUN APPSTORE APPS ON iPHONE 1.1.x!!!

It doesn’t work. It can’t work, since the 1.1.x version of the OS doesn’t support applications. You must install the 2.x version of the OS. 

Now, if you still want to read the original story, here it is:

OK, so I’ve got iPhone 2.0 loaded, and I successfully installed an app from the App Store from the device itself, but I can’t seem to get app installing working from within iTunes. I have downloaded three apps via iTunes and they all came down successfully, but they don’t show up on my iPhone. All three show up in the Applications pane of iTunes, so they successfully downloaded to my Mac, but even after manually syncing and unplugging and re-plugging the iPhone in, they never show up on the device. Going into the App Store on the iPhone itself and installing from there works, but I do get a message saying that I’ve already purchased that app, and would I like to re-download it for free. After that, the app is installed, but something is wrong. Or maybe I missed something.

08/01/2008 17:38 Update: I discovered the trick a day or so after I wrote this, but since someone else is still having the problem, I’m updating the post with the answer. Follow these steps

  1. Click on your iPhone in the Devices section of iTunes
  2. Click on the Applications tab
  3. Check the “Sync applications” checkbox
  4. Select either “All applications” or “Selected applications” and then check the ones you want synced.
  5. Click the “Sync” button.

That’s it.