Wednesday 29 June 2011

Where to buy mp3s for your SA iTunes collection

Written for South African iTunes users struggling to buy music online.

By 2013, South African iTunes users can mark a whole decade of music NOT being sold through their digital music player of choice. Clearly, banking on a 21st century service for Mzansi music fans was utopian, so here's an update on earlier advice for local iTunes users on the best legal alternatives:

With its combined local and international offerings DSTV's Omusic is probably the closest one gets to the iTunes US store's range. Unlike other stores, you must pay upfront into a digital wallet. Choosing a song adds it to your download list and subtracts from your wallet. Music can be downloaded from the site directly or downloaded from an emailed link. Just be careful, there is a three day time limit to download the music straight after you have paid for it, so be careful if ordering many songs by different artists.

Rhythm Music is the self-described "South African Music Portal" and offers a wide range of local music. Mostly priced at R7 a song, the store offers a nifty browser-based music player which scrolls through an album giving 30 seconds playtime to each song. This is a nifty way to tell whether one should buy a select songs or an entire album. The purchasing process is smooth, one only pays on checkout and there appears to be no time limit for downloading the music one has paid for.

Music Overtone promises "High Quality South African Music" and its catalogue seems mostly Cape-based. One can easily preview an album selection with the site's music player. Clicking on the album's artwork allows one to view a track- listing to play individual tracks. For fans of, there are also eight albums that offer free downloads. However, as one can only select singles as there are no separate prices for albums one cannot "save" while bulk-buying.

If these three sites don't satisfy you, then it's time to get an US iTunes Store account by following the steps at MP3SA or MediaWob. After doing that, you can buy your iTunes vouchers locally and redeem them through the US-store.

If you've got any other sites you like or suggestions, please add them as a comment. Thanks!

Thursday 23 June 2011

Two steps to be a more eco-friendly, Mac-user in South Africa

Written for eco-conscious Apple Macintosh fans (rather than PC fanboys & other Mac haters)

My 90's-era iMac's use bears testimony to the durability of Apple's product design. From personal experience, a major benefit of buying Mac is that the premium paid on its product is often recouped by their reliability and longevity; plus ease of re-sale, freecycling and recycling. This is good for the environment and is increasingly becoming a feature in Apple's marketing (witness "the greenest line-up of notebooks"). Post-Greenpeace's online campaign, Apple's international (.com) website now features an impressive environmental section; many of the environmental concerns raised by Greenpeace have been taken seriously and the reporting processes that Apple put in place is an impressive first in the computing industry.

While Apple is working hard to improve its environmental footprint internationally, there is scope for local Mac-users to Lead SA. In particular; we can insist on part-repairs (versus replacements) and to encourage Apple retailers to recycle our old Macs:

1 Get parts repaired, not replaced.
It seems that the Core Group and Apple's independent retailers have an unwritten policy to tell users to replace faulty components, rather than attempting repair. While this may be expedient and best for their bottom line, it results in environmental skidmarks :( ! This policy is unlikely to change*; locally, the Core Group does not support the establishment of repair centers in our cities. They are unlikely to be pressurized into changing; Apple does not report on spare parts sales in their Carbon footprint, given its focus on the most intensive cycle; production. So, all this places the onus on us Mac-users to insist on being directed to technicians that can repair parts, rather than going straight for replacement. In addition to saving us money and reducing our Carbon footprint, this is also proudly South African in supporting local technicians with growing second-hand-Mac repair businesses.

2 Encourage your retailer to assist with recycling old products
Before you buy from a retailer's store, you should check that sales staff will help you recycle your old equipment. Although Apple does have a recycling program that incentivises new buyers in select territories, this is not in South Africa. By insisting that retailers recycle, you contribute indirectly to retailers making local incentivisation a reality.

I'll step off my soap box, now.

* P.S. Much as I would like Apple to launch an incentives-based recycling program in SA and believe its carbon footprint report should include spare parts and repair-savings, I'm not beating on Apple or the Core Group's doors: a conversation with Apple (the least "social media" of companies) is close to impossible; their brand IS the conversation. And expecting talks with the Core Group to yield international results, is like expecting Renfield to adjust Count Dracula's behaviour!

Wednesday 8 June 2011

The Mac Daddy of a Mail Problem

Written for Apple OS X users troubleshooting its Mail software.

As Joni Mitchell observed in Big Yellow Taxi,  "Don't it always seem to go, That you don't know what you've got, Till it's gone". This may apply to something as big as the shade of recently-felled Cecilia forrest pines for Capetonian hikers, or as small as Mail software to me.

After nearly four years, I had created 298 rules for redirecting in-box mails speedily to a user-friendly hierachy of mailboxes. This was my very own "Mail Monster"; alert and ready to tag junkmail, smash SPAM and support me with delivering an inbox to zero status at the end of most working days. Together with a comprehensive archive of every email I've sent and the good ones I've received, Mail had become an indispensable tool in the present and a valuable window to my past. Sob!

The trouble started innocuously enough; the same email sender and subject featured eight times in my inbox. The subject header 'Someone searched for your name on Google and clicked your profile' seemed flattering, but this was clearly SPAM. My niche research topic has way too limited appeal to attract more than one person a month ;) !

As an Anti-Gaga, I was only too happy to delete all eight emails and retain my Indier-Than-Thou status. But, no; "Your message cannot be moved to On Your Mac's 'Empty Trash' mailbox."  OK. Can't empty my Mail trash either. So, let me try to download some more emails. Although several messages were shown downloading, nothing new appeared in my Inbox. I couldn't even shift messages from the Inbox to Mailboxes... It dawned on me; I've got  a dysfunctional Mail OS X member!

A Google search for "Apple Mail error" showed an official Apple Forum. I logged into it using my Apple ID, created a username and logged my problemI also emailed Denis at for advice.

In short, four failed attempts were then made to solve this problem:
  1. Disk Utility verification and repair was run within OS X and off its Snow Leopard DVD. Sadly, repaired permissions to the disk and its partition did not fix Mail's problems.
  2. I could not complete creating a copied email account, which conflicted with Mail's original one;
  3. The technician could not run Outlook after we installed it to attempt an email import cleaning;
  4. After reinstalling Snow Leopard, I was experiencing the same old Mail problems :( !

I know the PC fanboys are going to laugh, but a big plus of Microsoft Outlook is that it can be installed  and removed separately via Windows' OS. Sadly, Mail is part of Apple's OS and it can require fixing through reinstalling the entire OS....

Fortunately, Apple's Disk Utility and Time Machine made that relatively easy. After erasing my hard drive's disk, I was able to restore it with a Time Machine backup dating from the night before before my, er, Mail impotence. After a two hour wait for the restore process to finish, I only had to download and install one security update, before testing if the Mail package was working again... 

Fortunately, the import process went well and I am ecstatic that my Mail can receive, sort and send again. Plus my precious archive is well-ordered and my Rules intact. My Mail, I promise never to take you for granted again...

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