Category Archives: music

Learn To Play The Violin! A Review of Violin Tutor Pro (.com)

Photo of Woman Playing Violin
This photo of a young woman playing violin was provided by the generosity of skeeze on pixabay.

I mentioned in my previous post If You’re Hankerin’ To Start Fiddlin’…Or Playin’ Any Stringed Instrument that I stumbled upon a gold mine when searching the internet one day…that gold mine is Michael Sanchez and his websites violintutorpro.com and superiorviolins.com.  Superior Violins is the store component of these sister sites and was reviewed in my previous post.  Today I would like to introduce you to the educational website, Violin Tutor Pro.   Michael Sanchez and Loren Alldrin are co-owners of the Violin Tutor Pro.  Together with a talented team of musicians they have constructed a site which makes it possible for anyone with internet access to be able to learn to play the violin at little to no cost.

Their slogan is “your playing is our passion.”  When someone is passionate about something the natural inclination is to share your passion with others.  These guys are so passionate about playing the violin they work tirelessly coming up with new and innovative ways to teach anyone with a desire to learn.  There are many video lessons available on YouTube, from the very beginner lessons starting with how to hold the violin and the bow to advanced lessons involving double stops, single finger scales and lots of advice on developing a beautiful vibrato.  The videos are of excellent quality.

There is  a forum section on the website where members (free) can post questions about different topics and receive answers from fellow violinists and/or the staff.  Some current topics in the forum are Accessories (discussions about things like rosin, shoulder rests, etc), Adult Learners, Beginner Violin Playing, Advanced Violin Playing, Fiddle Playing, and one of my favorites, Video Feedback.  In the Video Feedback section anyone can post a video of themselves playing the violin.   It’s really fun to hear other people play.  The staff and other students (some with years of experience playing) will give feedback and tips for improvement.

Just between the YouTube videos and the forum there is a ton of free information that can help you with the violin and fiddle, whether you are just beginning or have been playing for years.

As most of us know private lessons can be very expensive.   For the nominal cost of $9 a month Michael is now offering access to structured lessons.  Check out the lessons membership page here.   You receive organized lessons to help you along each step of the way, guiding you just as a real-life teacher would in what to practice next.  You have access to music that can be downloaded for free – this is a huge savings!  If you want to take it a step further there are Skype lessons available with teachers from around the world.  I took a Skype lesson with Michael a few years back.  I’m not very comfortable using Skype, even when talking with my own children when they are out of state or out of the country…I’m just a bit older and have found it takes some getting used to.  But it really is a remarkable tool.  Michael was able to immediately notice things about my bow hold that needed to be improved.  He gave me his full attention for the 30 minutes of my lesson and his feedback was very helpful.

So, just as I highly recommend superiorviolins.com if you are in need of a stringed instrument or accessories, I also highly recommend violintutorpro.com if you or your child are looking to begin or continue to master the violin.

 

If You’re Hankerin’ to Start Fiddlin’… or Playin’ Any Stringed Instrument…

Photo of an Arkansas Fiddler

…Then I’d like to tell you about an online site where you can find quality stringed instruments at great prices!

I came across Michael Sanchez of superiorviolins.com several years ago, quite by accident.   I played violin decades ago and was considering trying to pick it up again.  For some reason I decided to google the difference between a fiddle and a violin.  I had been trained as a classical violinist, but had been wondering what it would be like to play the fiddle.  Quite honestly,  I thought a  fiddle was an entirely different instrument than a violin.  So, I turned to the ever-faithful search engine and plugged in “what is the difference between a fiddle and a violin?”  Up popped a young man with a somewhat impish grin who explained the difference – same instrument,  the difference is in how you play it.  I then looked up his website and in the years since have become a faithful follower and customer.  I thought I would do a review for Dave Enjoys, because it’s always good to exercise caution when making purchases online, especially major ones, and I can assure people they can shop with confidence at superiorviolins.com.

Superiorviolins.com is actually one of two sites run by Sanchez.  A sister site is violintutorpro.com which is an amazing site offering tremendous resources to violinists and fiddle players alike.  I will be reviewing that site in a later article here on Dave Enjoys.  But for now, I’d like to tell you about superiorviolins.com, which is the store part of the sister sites.  Here you can purchase violins (including electric violins), cellos, violas, bows, cases and a variety of accessories.  The instruments range from very basic, beginner type instruments for around $250 all the way up to master level instruments for $15,000.  Michael carefully selects the instruments he sells to ensure that they are of the highest quality, no matter the price.  I love that you can try any instrument in the comfort of your own home before you buy it.  The higher-priced instruments require a down payment, and if you decide not to purchase you simply return it, paying only the return shipping price.

I have tried out several violins from superiorviolins.com.   My absolute favorite was the Elda Marina, which retails for $3500.  I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to play than the inexpensive old violin I had picked up at a yard sale!  It sounded as though I had gained instantaneously ten years of practice, just because of the beautiful tone this instrument so effortlessly produced.  I took the Elda Marina to my local music store and tried it out against some of their high-end models.  None could compare with the Elda Marina with its rich tone.  Unfortunately, right at the time I was planning to purchase the violin of my dreams I got hit with some unexpected financial obligations and wasn’t able to …even with the great sale price and payment plan.  It just wasn’t the right time for me.   I cried like I was saying goodbye to a friend I might never see again when I closed the lid on it for the last time before packaging it to return!

Tia Bruna as found on SuperiorViolin.com
Tia Bruna as found on SuperiorViolin.com

Several months later things were looking better again financially and I decided at this time to try out another model; a less expensive but highly recommended one, the Tia Bruna.  This is a beautiful violin with rich, deep tones.  I made the purchase and I am so glad!  The decades I had turned my back on the violin are being reclaimed as I faithfully practice.  A good instrument can make such a difference, including providing increased motivation to practice.  It is difficult to struggle along on an inferior quality instrument…a quality instrument makes practicing a joy.  I highly recommend that parents provide their children with the highest quality instrument they can afford…and Michael makes sure he does everything he can to make his instruments affordable and available to people, including frequent and generous sales, contests, trade-ins and easy payment plans.   By the time I applied my trade-in and the $100 I won in a contest to a really great sale price I was able to purchase a truly wonderful violin almost for a song.

So, all that to say, if you are looking for a violin, viola or cello, be sure to check out superiorviolins.com….Michael Sanchez is as honest and trustworthy as they come and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

The Song Movie Review (PG-13)

Love and Hate Relationship

On occasion I receive screener copies of films (these days they tend to be digital rather than physical) and usually these are Christian films. I have a love/hate relationship with the Christian movie industry. I want to see good Christian films but the vast majority are crap so when I received the screener for The Song I didn’t set my expectations high – I was pleasantly surprised.

The Story

The Song Movie lead actorsThe Song tells the story of Jeb King (Alan Powell), a singer/songwriter who marries Rose (Ali Faulkner), the woman of his dreams, but almost loses her as well as his young son in the pursuit of fame, fortune, and fun – the last primarily in the person of a talented and free spirited musician – Shelby Bale (Caitlin Nicol-Thomas) who joins his tour as the opening act.

The Bad

The first few minutes of the film are underwhelming and confusing. Telling the story of Jeb’s father Dave – a famous singer/songwriter in his own right – it lacks any narration and covers a large span of time – I found it downright confusing.

The acting throughout the film is solid and sometimes ventures into greatness with occasional lapses into mediocrity.

The Good

The film claims to be inspired by the Song of Solomon – it might be more accurate to say that it is based off of the life and writings of King Solomon (traditionally Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and some of the Psalms). This could be a recipe for disaster – far too many Christian films skimp on the story and are heavy-handed with the sermonizing – but not The Song.

Instead the song is a genuinely innovative take on King Solomon. It has many subtle references to the story of Solomon (one of the less subtle being that Jeb’s father is David and they both share the last name King) and maintains the overarching themes of Solomon’s life and teachings but with a freedom that allows the story to stand on its own.

There are also a number of times in which Jeb voices over the film with readings from Solomon’s teachings which specifically apply to and illuminate the relevant scene – one of the more powerful being the reading of Solomon’s warning against the adulterous woman.

Ohh, and did I mention the music is catchy? I’m not a musician, but to my untrained ear several of the songs where quite enjoyable.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a fun and thought provoking film, The Song is worth trying. It does contain mature themes (alcohol, drugs, violence) so I wouldn’t recommend it for young children (besides the intricacy of the story and allusions would go over their heads and they’d lose interest) but for teen and adult audiences it should be an enjoyable option.

If you do watch the film I’d like to know what you think of it. Did you like it? What were your favorite allusions to Solomon’s life and writings? What would you have done differently?

Ohh, and P.S., its currently available at your local Redbox…at least it is at mine!

They Like It Too

I’m not alone in my appreciation of the film. While Rotten Tomatoes find the critic rating at only 29% the audience rating indicates 91% enjoyed the film. The IMDb gives it a Metascore of 42/100 while the audience gave it a 5.6/10 and it received a 6 from Metacritic. These numbers aren’t amazing – but they aren’t horrible either.

By comparison, the recent Left Behind movie has a 2% rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 47% audience rating. On IMDb Left Behind has a 3.1/10 from the audience, a Metascore of 12/100 and Metacritic gives it a score of 25!

Dear Spotify

I’ve been using Spotify for 2+ years now, it deserves a longevity award. It also deserves some sort of honor for being one of the few subscription services I dole out for on a monthly basis – placing it alongside Netflix – and everybody has Netflix.Spotify Client Apps

In spite of a number of other options, including from mega companies like Google and Amazon, I still prefer Spotify. It is entirely free if you don’t mind the ads and the premium account is $5/mo.

That said, I do have a few things I’d love for Spotify to incorporate:

  1. Tagging – Playlists are cool, they are like categories, but everyone knows that you need categories and tags (ala WordPress). I like creating playlists – but what if I want to listen to a song on a specific subject? Or what if the song is on multiple subjects? Yes, I can create multiple playlists – but this quickly becomes cumbersome.
  2. Listens – It would be great if Spotify displayed how many times one has listened to a song. I am an explorer – always trying out new bands, new albums – and oftentimes forgetting who I’ve listened to previously and which songs. If I could see how many times I’ve listened to the song it would allow me to more efficiently explore.
  3. Searching Artists, Songs, Albums – I’ve listened to a lot of artists and this list of artists (or songs or albums) can become overwhelming. Sometimes I know I want to listen to an artist that begins with some letter or word, but I can’t remember its name in its entirety, it would be great if I could search only what is in “Your Music.”
  4. Language / Topic Filters – I know that Spotify includes “explicit content” warnings on songs, but I’ve listened to far too many songs that had “explicit content” and weren’t marked as such. This becomes important when (a) one is playing the music in the presence of others who might find the content offensive, (b) one finds it offensive, or (c) one is allowing Spotify to post to one’s Facebook timeline and has an audience that includes individuals of young(er) age for whom such content might be inappropriate.
  5. Shazam Functionality – If I am listening to the radio in the car I still have to use Shazam to find out and save what song I’m listening to. Adding this functionality into Spotify’s mobile app would be huge…especially since Shazam now makes me integrate with Rdio.

Which of these features? Or what other features would you like to see in Spotify?

Water Within’s Better Off Broken (Song)

I’m always stumbling around looking for new musical artists…and Spotify surfaced a band called Water Within. I’d never heard of them and their songs all had well under 2,000 listens – indicating they aren’t very popular. Usually this means that they aren’t very good…but on rare occasions…such as this one…it means they are amazing and just haven’t made it big yet [but I’m betting they will.]

Water Within Musicians
Water Within Musicians

Their music reminds me of JJ Heller’s earlier albums, though lyrically I can’t place them, perhaps somewhere near Michael Card…so fuse Heller and Card together in your mind and you might get something close to Water Within.

Anyways, I’ve been listening to their album Unlocked and there have been several songs I’ve enjoyed but Better Off Broken knocked my socks off…ok…I wasn’t wearing socks, but if I was…

Seriously, this is my new favorite song…Listen to it and read the lyrics (I listened to the song and wrote up the lyrics, so there are probably some discrepancies between the actual words and what I have).

[Sidenote: While the lyrics are sad, the music is upbeat…and they make it work.]

[Sidenote 2: Calvary Community Church’s (where I pastor) slogan is Broken people growing together communicating the idea that all of us are in need of a Savior and that one of the primary ways God grows us is through deep community]

My scars are so visible.
How can I help but notice
My mind holds tragic memories
Its hard to keep my focus
Who do I think I am
Doubting your voice when
You say you make all things new
Why do I think I can stand
On paperthin pride that denies
That i need you

I’m crying out
Come in tear down these walls
I can’t do this alone
I’ve been so lost
I need to come home
Break through all of the scars
Heal me as only you can
I’ve tried to fix myself
But I’ve found
I’m better off broken

So worn out
So weak now
Your strength in me
Makes me need you
I’ve been wounded
So beaten
The death of me
Lets you shine through

Who do I think I am
Trying to heal a heart
That deceives itself
Why do I think I can stand
When I’m on my face
Oh God, I need your help
I’m crying out

So worn out
So weak now
Your strength in me
Makes me need you
I’ve been wounded
So beaten
The death of me
Lets you shine through

Better off broken (repeated w/variations)

If I’m fixed just break me
If I’m broken then take me
And make me whole again
This is restoration

When I’m lost come find me
When I’m found refind me again
The power of restoration
Ohhhhh

I’m crying out
Come in tear down these walls
I can’t do this alone
I’ve been so lost
I need to come home
Break through all of the scars
Heal me as only you can
I’ve tried to fix myself
But I’ve found
I’m better off broken

Better off broken [repeats with variations]

Don’t Be Rude (and Parodies)

The Song & Videos

I’d never heard of the band Magic! before their song Rude began to dominate the air waves. I must confess that I enjoy the song – even though I feel ambiguous about its lyrics.

The song has an upbeat and happy feel to it, at its best speaks of true love unwilling to allow any obstacle stand in its way, and it reminds me of the song in Disney’s The Little Mermaid “Kiss the Girl.”

You can watch the original music video embedded below:

Then you have to watch the parody by Benji Cowart portraying the dad’s side of the story:

Nicky Costabile’s parody from the perspective of the daughter is also worth viewing:

And if you have time you might check out Alisha Thomas’ parody, also from the daughter’s perspective (and quite different from Costabile’s):

Reflections on Lyrics & Videos

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I feel some ambiguity about the lyrics. Why? Because I can empathize with each of the different perspectives presented…and I think, as in most conflicts, all sides can have legitimate points.

I believe that in most situations if opposing sides can take the time to empathize and understand the mindset of their opponent, common ground and understanding can be found.

[Sidenote: I’m not naive, I’ve been burned multiple times, sometimes quite severely, in attempting to live by this belief…but I try not to allow these painful collisions to dethrone my hope…not b/c in the future I won’t be hurt, but b/c I don’t see a better way…this way, with its potential for suffering, is the best way I know.]

In the music video the boyfriend sees the father as a stereotypical white collar man who is concerned primarily about one’s prestige (based upon employment), possessions (nice car, nice clothes), and appearance (wearing a suit and tie).

The father meanwhile sees the boyfriend as a stereotypical young man who is self-absorbed (spends his time making music instead of getting a real job) and lazy/undisciplined (unwilling to spend the time and effort to dress appropriately).

The boyfriend perceives himself as hard-working but communally focused; concerned with living life well rather than making life stable.

The father perceives himself as hard-working and family oriented; concerned with ensuring life is stable for those he loves rather than experiencing life as it comes.

Here we have a clash of generations and of worldviews…and the opportunity for growth on both parts, or for a retrenchment of current positions.

The young man would do well to learn to be more concerned about the future stability of his family, the father would do well to look beyond appearances to recognize the worth of the individual himself.

The father’s response is provocative – he doesn’t suggest ways in which the young man must change in order to be acceptable but rejects the man’s proposal out of hand.

The young man’s response is similarly provocative – he doesn’t respond by asking what it would take to become acceptable to the father but instead threatens to go around the father.

The way perception affects one’s interpretation of the song is most clearly seen in Nicky Costabile’s parody in which she refuses both the father and the boyfriend’s control insisting that “I’m human too.”

This perspective will seem strange to many fathers who don’t assume they control their daughters – only that they desire to protect their daughters from the evils of this world – and that they have a right not to control whom their daughter marries but to give or withhold their blessing upon the marriage.

And the perspective will seem strange to many young men who would assume that asking for permission to marry someone’s daughter is not asking for control but for blessing and is a cultural sign of respect for the parents and the daughter by willing to engage in tradition in securing the relationship.

Additionally, many (most?) young men would have already talked to their girlfriend about whether she was willing to marry him before he asks permission of the father…and even if he asked permission of the father first, it is almost certain he would then ask rather than demand that the daughter marry him.

Thus, one sees how the song has no implications to most men about male chauvinism but to some women (e.g. Costabile) the actions appear forthrightly chauvinistic.

A Final Observation

I thought it was interesting how the music video begins with the boyfriend and girlfriend in a bedroom together (an intimate location) where he is playing music for her (a non-sexual interaction). This (to me) infers a certain respect for the woman by the man (e.g. he is not taking advantage of her, but is acting in an honorable manner).

At the same time, the video portrays towards the end behavior by the girlfriend influenced by the boyfriend that to the father, in appearance (and perhaps actuality) is indicative of a negative dimension to the man’s influence upon his daughter.

I’m Happy!?! (Music Videos)

A Little Fun…

Today I watched (HT: Mashable) a beautiful, fun video by some of our elder generation performing a rendition of Pharrell Williams’ recently famous song ‘Happy.’ I’ve embedded it below.

After you’ve watched it (or before) check out the original music video, embedded below.

Some More Serious Thoughts

[Feel free to skip this if you just wanted to smile. =)]

This makes me think of three ways of living, ways we are all likely to favor at one juncture or another in our lifetimes:

  • Denial – Things are bad but we are unwilling to admit it.
  • Reality – Things are bad and we are willing to admit it.
  • Choice – Things are bad, we admit it, but we are choosing to experience it differently.

I think this cycle of choices can be seen in individual’s lives as well as in society as a system and over time. It doesn’t matter when one jumps on the merry-go-round, you are still on the merry-go-round and will go past the place you did not start with at some juncture or another.

So, we deny bad things are happening until they become so bad that we can’t bear them any more…then we break and sometimes this break results in a choosing to be real. Being real is highly valued…and I value very highly being real.

That said, depending on our circumstances, real is a place we may remain for a very long time – and over time the expression of real can become pessimism, hopelessness, anger, fear, and so on.

So then we have a third way of living that acknowledges what is real yet  chooses to make the best of a bad situation.

I’ve worked for years with teenagers[1] and each generation I have worked with has heard me repeat on more than one occasion that it doesn’t matter what we do as long as we are together and choose to have fun.

What I mean is, it is primarily (I would not say only) our attitude that determines our experience. I can have a great time cleaning – if others enter into the experience with me and we all have a positive, upbeat attitude.

But I don’t think as a society or as individuals we stay there – rather we loop back into denial. Why? Because once we have chosen to be happy we feel that we must be happy and when we aren’t happy we don’t want others to know that we have “failed” at being happy and now are back at the “lowest point of our emotional maturity” – and so we go into denial.

So which is the best phase? I’d say that each phase has its place. Denial is useful in situations of overwhelming suffering and it is oftentimes utilized when we first experience trauma as well as when the trauma is sustained over a long time.

Reality is useful when we are no longer in the overwhelming suffering and need to move out of denial.

Choice is the preferred state of being (that is, we prefer it, I’m not saying it is inherently superior) which allows us to recognize the effects of reality upon us without being broken by reality.

  1. [1]It feels awkward saying this, I feel so young and inexperienced…but I’m not. As of the end of August it will be eleven years non-stop.

Mandolyn Mae: Indie Musician.

Go Listen to Mandolyn Mae…

I like Mandolyn Mae’s music, you should too. You can listen to her debut CD Once on Spotify. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find anything by here since (Once was released in 2013) nor does it appear she has been touring this year…but she does have an active Twitter account. You can also check out her Facebook page – though it has been languishing.

Mandolyn Mae's Once album cover.
Mandolyn Mae’s Once album cover.

I was reminded of her music this evening as I was going through some old documents on my computer and stumbled across the lyrics I had typed up for two of her songs: Here We Are and Tonight.

I couldn’t find these lyrics online when I first heard the songs and a quick search didn’t turn them up now either…so I figured I’d mention how I liked her music and include the lyrics here in case other fans are looking for the lyrics to these songs as I was…

My favorite songs from Mae are the two mentioned above and The Only Person Alive.

Caveat About Songs…

The songs for which I am giving the lyrics became favorites for me during an extremely difficult phase in my life…I’m not still in that phase and so the lyrics don’t reflect my heart as they did then…but their power to provide soothing to me in the midst of that ordeal was significant.

In other words, don’t think I’m depressed, sad, angry, etc. b/c I posted the lyrics for these songs….or that these songs reflect my thoughts/feelings toward that individual with whom I went through such a difficult time… 🙂

Here We Are Lyrics

A photo of Mandolyn Mae.
A photo of Mandolyn Mae.

so this is what it feels like
to look at you in the candlelight
and know we cannot be together now
i know we said its over
but its hard getting over
your the one that i’ve been loving all this time
and i think you and i both know
when we both broke into pieces
you cannot fix this

here we are
at the end of it all
and there is nothing i can say
to take back all i ever said
and there’s no drink
none that i can see
that can make me forget
all that you once meant to me,
what you once meant to me

its amazing how much time can make
before i get the worst of mistakes
like the time you said i could not do this without you
when i knew that it was ending
and i thought that i could mend this
but i can’t b/c i don’t trust you anymore
but honey you and i both know
that we could go on for hours
talking about failure

here we are at the end of it all
and there’s nothing i can say
to take back all i ever said
and there is no touch
in the clubs of all LA
that can make me forget
all that you once meant to me,
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me

i’m at a war with regret
over all the time i wasted
against all the time i spent
loving this boy i knew
the man i knew
this love i knew that became me and you

so this is what it feels like to know that for the first time
my skin won’t feel your breath on me tonight
here we are at the end of it all
and there is nothing i can say to take back
all i ever said
and there’s no love
nowhere i’ve ever heard of
that can make me forget all that you meant to me
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me

Tonight Lyrics

i thought about you and i pray for you today
that all the sadness that you carried
would somehow walk away
you would find comfort
and some sort of calm
and a way to recover
from all thats gone wrong

and how does it feel tonight
to know for the first time in your life
i know that your a liar
a performance and a cheater
how does it feel tonight

i thought about you and i hurt in my heart
to know you where lonely
and everything you had fallen apart
there was a day i knew every line on your face
but sometimes when he kisses me i couldn’t tell you your name

and how does it feel tonight
to know for the first time in my life
i know that i don’t want you
even though my daddy loves you
how does it feel tonight

and how does it feel right now
to know that this heart of mine
has found someone who loves me better
and i love him more than ever
how does it feel tonight

this is over
never again
you weren’t worth it
never again
never again
and how does it feel tonight
to know for the first time in your life
i know you are in fact a liar
and a world class cheater
how does it feel tonight
how does it feel tonight

HitBliss – Supplement Netflix and Hulu for Free

A long, long time ago (okay, I really don’t remember how long ago – but in internet time, it has been a long time) I signed up for a program called HitBliss. It allowed me to watch a few videos and earn cash. I think I could cash out back in the old days, I’m not sure if that is still possible…but they do still let you earn money which you can then use to purchase various items they have available. Sounds pretty lame, right? Nope.

The HitBliss store contains a wide variety of movies and TV shows – and no, I don’t mean old or B movies – I mean real movies, many recent blockbusters (Star Trek: Into Darkness, Gatsby, After Earth, Oblivion, Thor, Now You See Me, The Croods, The Help, Inception)…and real TV shows – and not just from network TV either (BBC, HBO, FX, The History Channel). Many of these films/shows are not available via Netflix or Hulu Plus.

A screen capture from the front page of HitBliss which includes a sreenshot of the HitBliss. Unnecessarily complicated? Yes.
A screen capture from the front page of HitBliss which includes a sreenshot of the HitBliss. Unnecessarily complicated? Yes.

This is how it works. You let HitBliss run a little app on your computer that analyzes your web browsing habits (it can be easily turned off for a period of time and by default disables itself if you are using incognito browser sessions). It uses this analysis to determine what products/services you are likely to be interested in. When you want to earn some money – you open the HitBliss application and choose earn. Click on HitBliss Earn and HitBliss will begin playing advertisements it believes will be relevant to you. You can save or bury ads – if you bury an ad you won’t see it again. As the ads play you’ll notice little blue bars at the bottom right being filled. This indicates the amount of money you are earning – you can earn up to $5 at a time. Then go back to the HitBliss Store and use the cash to purchase/rent TV shows/movies. $5 isn’t a lot – but it is enough to purchase two TV episodes or one movie and one TV episode. When you’ve used up the cash, go back, earn some, purchase show/movie, rinse, and repeat.

The niftiest feature they’ve added recently is integration with Amazon. They have numerous movies available via Amazon’s Video on Demand service (no, I don’t mean the ones you get free with Amazon Prime) and you can purchase Amazon through HitBliss.

Right now it is a fairly primitive implementation. It looks like when you click on purchase for something via Amazon, HitBliss purchases a gift certificate to Amazon, automatically purchases your selected show/movie on your behalf using the gift certificate, and then launches in your web browser the page for the particular movie/show you selected – from whence you can begin instantly watching your purchase (that you made without having to spend any real cash).

Now the problem with these sorts of programs is two-fold. Those who have been around the internet will remember the madness pre-2000 when any idea that was internet focused was having huge amounts of money thrown at it – including ideas that involved paying people cash for their time such as AllAdvantage. Most of these programs went belly up after burning through their cash.

Those programs that did survive brought to the surface another problem…in order to remain viable the programs had to reduce the payouts so significantly that you couldn’t make any significant cash…unless you were the “referrer” for literally hundreds of other users (changing these programs into a form of multi-level marketing (MLM)).

It appears that HitBliss has landed upon a sustainable model. Its use of video ads means that they are worth more per view than traditional image/text ads…their use of random checks to make sure you are actually watching the ads help reducing the prevalence of gaming the system, and their restriction of purchases to items in the HitBliss store allows them to control what is being purchased based on how affordable it is for HitBliss to offer the product.

In addition to the movie and tv options, HitBliss also allows you to purchase a Pandora One subscription for $3.99 for one month. Pandora is a well-known web-based, custom radio station – Pandora One is the same but with premium features including no ads, higher quality audio, a desktop app, and so on.

One last item – what about the earn rate? I mean, is this like so many other programs where it takes years to accumulate the necessary points to earn cash? No. I’d guesstimate it takes around 10 minutes of videos to get a full $5 credit…working out to around $30/hr. spent watching ads (which are usually decent entertaining in and of themselves).

Well, that is all I’ve got. I hope you’ll give it a try…and use this link. I’ll get $2 for each person who joins via it and you’ll get $1.

I Want My Music To Follow Me.

Android: WiFi Speaker

When working around the house we oftentimes want to move from room to room cleaning, organizing, resting – but we feel limited because the music is playing off our laptop or stereo system and if we leave the room we won’t be able to hear the song anymore. If it is a laptop it isn’t too much hassle to move it to a new location – but sometimes you need to go back and forth between rooms or floors quickly and it would be silly to carry the laptop dozens of times between these rooms.

The standard answer is, “Go buy a Sonos. Then buy wireless speakers for each room in the house you want the music to play in.” This gets a bit pricey – and Bose and Samsung aren’t offering budget line items either. At least for me, Sonos wasn’t an option.

Screenshot of WiFi Speaker Server running on a Windows 8.1 machine.
Screenshot of WiFi Speaker Server running on a Windows 8.1 machine.

So what else? I’ve tried turning the music up real loud but two problems remain. First, if I enter the room where the speakers are my eardrums scream out in agony and second, at least my sound system can’t overpower the noise of a vacuum cleaner or other electric household tool that insists on making loud noises and which family members always seem to insist on using just as one is sitting down to relax and watch TV or talk on the phone.

For a while I didn’t have a solution…but then my sound system (which I’d picked up at a garage sale for $10) died (due to a mischievous cat loving to eat cables) and I was waiting for my new sound system to arrive (Logitech Surround Sound Speakers Z506)…so I became creative (it isn’t that I actually needed speakers at the moment – but that I don’t like my electronics to be broken…so that when I do need/want to use it, its ready to go) and did some searching around the Google Play App store. I found a nifty little application by William Morrison called “WiFi Speaker.” I installed it on my phone and then another little app onto my laptop. With a few mouse clicks my computer was now sending the audio over WiFi to my smartphone. I turned on Spotify, put in ear buds, grabbed the vacuum, and merrily went about my way.

The application is available in both free and pro versions. The pro version costs $3.99. Yes, I bought it. You can see the official website for the software (and links to download) here. There is also a helpful guide for those who might be struggling getting WiFi Speaker up and running.

A screenshot of WiFi Speaker running on my Samsung Galaxy S3.
A screenshot of WiFi Speaker running on my Samsung Galaxy S3.

I wondered if this could also be used to setup a smartphone (or phones) as speaker(s) for the laptop when watching a video (movie, TV, YouTube). I didn’t make any configuration changes and just started playing a video – but the mouths weren’t in sync with the conversation on the laptop.

I have tried making a few configuration changes since then with bad results. Sometimes the laptop began hissing static at me, other times it gave out little bleeps that I think where supposed to be music, and finally, I couldn’t get it to work at all.

What is the first thing you try when fixing a technology problem? Reboot the device. So I took my own advice and rebooted my Windows box and when everything came up, it worked just fine again.

I suspect that if I had closed out the server application before making these changes on the phone and then opened it again after making the changes, the problem would not have occurred. I’m planning to shoot the developer an email letting him know about the issue and hopefully a patch can be quickly produced.

iPhone: Airfoil for Windows/Mac

I don’t use an iPhone – haven’t for years and I’m not looking back wistfully either. I know many of you still insist on Apple technology (I really don’t have a problem with Apple, I just like to goad my friends and family who are Apple fans) – so here is what I found for you (and not surprising, it is more expensive).

Screenshot of Airfoil on a Mac.
Screenshot of Airfoil on a Mac.

Rogue Amoeba Software has written  “Airfoil for Windows” and “Airfoil for Mac” application which runs on your Windows computer. The application costs $25, you can download a free trial before purchasing. This software is installed on either your Windows or Mac computer. Don’t forget to grab the free app for your iPhone! If you do purchase this software and have the opportunity to utilize it, I’d love to be able to share some firsthand experiences about the iPhone app.