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Subject: Re: Neuros: Not ready for prime time
From: Neon John (johngd_at_bellsouth.net)
Date: 2003-09-24


On Wed, 24 Sep 2003 13:04:19 -0500, "Neuros Customer Support"
<support_at_neurosaudio.com> wrote:

>Dear John,
>
>Sorry to hear that you are not having a good experience with your
>Neuros. I will address the open source issues in this email and follow
>up with other issues.

Thank you for the quick response. that is refreshing. I hope we can work
something out, as I just love the Neuros hardware. The built-in FM radio, the
form factor, the ergonomics all make me want to keep this unit. The problem
is it is effectively unusable in its current form.

I'm a retired engineer and programmer who now owns several businesses. I'm on
the go most all the time and my Archos is never far from my side. I love
audio books, the main use of my Archos. Being able to quickly change to music
when the mood hits, or change to another audio book when I get bored with one
is so nice. I can copy the files over in a few minutes, even with the USB 1.1
interface on my Studio 10. Once copied, the files are instantly ready to
play. They are stored in the file system hierarchy familiar to anyone who
uses a Windows or Unix based machine. It takes maybe 5 minutes to load a new
book and start playing.

With the Rockbox software, once playing, I can suspend play at any time to
take a phone call, get out at one of my restaurants to check on things or
whatever. I can resume where I left off. Or I can bookmark where I was and
go to something else, knowing that I can resume at the bookmark later. If
I've lost my place I can fast forward with RockBoxes accelerated FF and
quickly arrive at the desired place, even in a file that is over an hour long.

For music, I can either play an album through, randomize it or with a playlist
I can play multiple albums across many different bands. I don't have to worry
about having file names just right or have the ID3 tags written correctly. If
I'm dealing with a live recording, I can just rip the whole CD to one MP3 and
not have to worry about controlling the gaps between tracks. The resume,
bookmarking and accelerated FF let me quickly navigate around even a huge
file.

Unfortunately I can't do any of this stuff with the Neuros as it exists now.
First off, it is unconscionable to foist off onto users an architecture that
takes better than 24 hours to load up the drive. Or about 30 minutes to load
up an audio book. Earlier today I loaded a new book and timed the process.
By the time I'd conditioned the ID3 tags, imported the files into the sync
manager and then transferred them to the Neuros, over 30 minutes had passed.
Sorry, I just don't have that much time to spend on entertainment.

If I want to maneuver around a file I'm stuck with the single slow speed FF
and REV. I can't store my place, nor can I resume. I must either set the
timeout to a high value and leave the unit on and in PAUSE or I have to note
the location, turn the unit off and then navigate all the way back to where I
was. As opposed to turning the Archos on and then hitting PLAY to acknowledge
a resume, this is intolerable.

Even if I work around all of that I still can't figure out how to reliably
play a multi-file work such as an audio book or a live recording broken into
tracks. At least not without spending additional time building a playlist.
If I choose "songs" then everything on the Neuros is glommed together in one
big alphabetical list. If I choose "artist" then I see all the "artists"
including non-artists glommed together in one big list. Under each artist
there is no hierarchy. Everything that artist did is glommed into one big
list.

Worse, the firmware is so literal that it can't group music from the same band
together if the ID3 tags are a little different. On my PC and my Archos, I
have the great swing sounds of Glenn Miller organized as .\Glenn
Miller\albums\songs. When I transferred that over to the Neuros I see that I
have the following "artists": Glen miller, Glenn Miller, Glenn Miller and
t... (off screen), Glenn Miller Orches...(off screen) and Glenn Miller Band.
I suppose I could spend the time harmonizing the ID3 tags on every one of my
approx 8000 songs but frankly I don't have the time nor the will.

Choosing "albums" is even worse. I see things like "20 greatest hits"
(whose?), 18 Essential Songs (Jimi Hendrix, I think), "40 too long" (no idea)
and so on. Many of these contain only one song.

Like many serious music enthusiasts, more and more of my collection has been
recorded from vinyl. When I have time I fill in the ID3 tags but they're not
necessary, as the file system layout tells me what I need to know. Almost
none of these are showing up in any semblance of order on the Neuros.

I suppose I could fix all of this but that violates a basic philosophy that a
product should serve the user's need and not try to bend the user to the
product. The sync manager and the database system has applied layers of
obfuscation and annoyance on top of what should be a very simple process -
copy files, play files.

I think the Archos model is the optimum. For those who want the Jukebox
model, they supply a copy of MusicMatch. For the rest of us, there is the
simple mountable hard drive interface.

On to other problems. A major selling point to me was the apparent ability to
insert the player into the hard drive sleeve, load up some songs to flash and
then play them. I call your tech support line to make sure I could do that
before ordering. That made the difference between the HD package and the
bundle. I now find out that I cannot do this, that I have to do everything
through the PC using sync manager. Obviously I don't want to have to drag
along my laptop on every trip just to be able to load the solid state player
with new material, material that is sitting right there on the hard drive
sleeve. It bothers me that I can't do this. It REALLY bothers me that I was
absolutely positively told that I could.

>
>We have sent out the NSM code to people who were ready and excited to
>build, like to Starkey who created NDM (see Neuros forums), an
>alternative to the software we provide. We haven't released the
>software code publicly yet, as we are creating an SDK, so people could
>really use it in a productive way. Firmware code hasn't been a priority
>to make because the software and emulator require $5000 to start
>development and it's a difficult skill set. When we really drilled down,
>we saw few users who could really use the code as is. We are developing
>a virtual Neuros, which would change that, and allow firmware code to be
>written without all the special equipment.

This is NOT open source. You and I both know that. Your advertising that you
are an open source company is simply false.

As I look at all the Linux, GNU, Rockbox and other open source software out
there and as I think about just what I've done with open sources, I find that
bit about "difficult skill set" just a tad bit insulting. I'm no longer a
programmer and am now a businessman but to get what I wanted on this device I
would start coding again. I'm familiar with expensive development systems - I
spent over $50k on Intel's first 8080 ISIS system. That your current code
requires the development environment is unfortunate but it is something that
can be worked around. Having the working code at hand would make it easy for,
say, RockBox programmers to port it to your hardware.

I really and truly do appreciate the company's efforts to develop an SDK - now
that I know about it - but that's too slow for we who want better now. I
despise this database model so bad that I'm willing to spend money to get rid
of it. If the RockBox guys want to tackle a port I'll buy the necessary
Neuroses and donate them to the project. or whatever else it takes, within
reason.
>
>To me, this email tips the scale about a discussion I had with my
>brother, the CTO. My feeling was to just release the code for the sake
>of public relations, I said something like, "who cares if nobody
>actually uses it? We toss it out there and we can say it's open." So I
>guess that's the way to go, forsake development that really encourages
>collaboration, and just toss out lines of code.

I hope you're just venting, for that cynicism is also insulting to the open
source community.

>Also note that the
>Archos code was hacked, not released by Archos. I think that corporation
>has little interest in working with users in the field. We are planning
>on working with customers, finding the best of the best new programs,
>and sending great software out of the box.

Yes, the RockBoxers had to hack the Archos. That is unfortunate. Their
non-cooperation will be a factor in their downfall I predict. I should also
note that RockBox is why I purchased my Archoses. I have never been impressed
with the hardware. I find it to be typical low end chinese mass-produced
junk. Of the 3 FM recorders that I've had and of the 5 others I caused to be
purchased, none are now working. I'm about to take my 3rd FMR back to Best
Buy and get a store credit instead of wasting more time with Archos products.

As I hold your product in one hand and my Studio 10 (the only one that is
still working) in the other, I see the difference between a stone axe and a
CNC mill. But when I start Rockbox vs your code, I feel like I've dropped
back through a time warp, from Linux or Windows back to 1979 and that first
ISIS II system.

I really, really want to be able to use my Neuros. I simply can't right now.
I'd put it on the shelf and wait for the goodies if I could see some hope.
I'm hoping that we (your company and we enthusiasts) can get past the
posturing and figure out how to proceed.
>
>To specifically address your request, I cannot create a link and post
>the code within a 48 hour period. We are a small company with limited
>resources, and that's why some things are behind schedule, and why it
>has taken us longer than we hoped to release this and new features. In
>that sense, the Neuros division of DI may not be a large enough company
>to meet your needs at this time. But if anyone is really ready to go,
>they should write me an email and I will work to clear it with the CTO,
>and we will try to be truly open as soon as we can.

Why don't you take a look at how the RockBox team does it (or any other major
SourceForge project) and copy that? The daily builds are just that - whatever
the developers have worked on that day. It may or may not work but those who
try it know that. The releases are stable and mostly bug-free.

Or copy the Red Hat or Cygnus models. Both of those work.

Seems to me the major problem is that you're trying to control what happens
with your code. Open source and that kind of control are mutually exclusive.
You can, of course, control what you release, the same as Archos does. With
true open source, other parallel paths such as RockBox can develop. Because
of the clever design of both the Archos hardware and Rockbox I can run either
firmware at will, only a few seconds involved to change from one to the other.

As my final word on this, here's a suggestion.

Release what you have. Not just a "toss it out for the publicity" but a
release with serious purpose, a snapshot of everything available. People can
start studying the code and architecture even if they can't yet build it for
lack of a development environment. The offer to support an official
independent development team. This could involve little more than donating a
few Neuroses to the effort and maybe a developer's mailing list with Neuros
programmer(s) being present. perhaps restrict posting to only those actively
coding to limit distractions. Then another list for enthusiasts, people like
me who are willing to do other things like alpha or beta testing,
documentation and the like.

Speaking of lists, please make the forums available as mailing lists.
Web-based forums just don't cut it for me. I don't have the time to be
tethered to the Internet. I need to suck in things quickly to my laptop so
that I can address them as time permits. I'm writing this note in my car as I
sit and wait for a contractor to show up at a new restaurant location. I'm on
perhaps a dozen mailing lists and with the assistance of Agent (a superb mail
agent) I can sort and process a day's messages in minutes, then reply at my
leisure. The Yahoo model (minus the advertising) works well - a web forum for
those who want it and the mailing list for everyone else.

Thanks,
John

---
John De Armond
johngdDONTYOUDARE_at_bellsouth.net
http://bellsouthpwp.net/j/o/johngd/
Cleveland, Occupied TN



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