Radio Made Just For You… (Pandora Music Genome Project)

Internet radio has been around for years and years.
It was there when RealPlayer was the ultimate media application around.
It was there when streaming via a dial-up connection was cool.
It was there when I listened live to Michael Jordan sinking his final shot for the Bulls on NBA.com.

Over time, broadband got better, audio quality audio shot up, and internet radio stations of every imaginable genre started popping out all over the place. Pretty soon, you could fully customise your listening experience by picking stations that appealed to your tastes.

So what makes Pandora different from Shoutcast, Itunes Radio, or Windows Media Player Radio? Let’s take a look….

A quick background on the Music Genome Project:

This project was started by a group of musicians who listen to songs in order to analyse, and categorise everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics. Having done so for the past 5 years, they’ve analysed over 10,000 different artists.

What this means is that when I tell Pandora I like Tori Amos, it doesn’t just conclude that “I like Altenative Rock”.

It concludes that “I like mild, rhythmic syncopation, mixed acoustic and electronic instrumentation, major key tonality, a breathy female lead vocalist, and electric pianos”.

If I tell Pandora I like Nirvana, it doesn’t just conclude that “I like Grunge”

It concludes that “I like mild, rhythmic syncopation, repetitive melodic phrasing, minor key tonality, melodic songwriting, and a dynamic male vocalist”

You get the idea.

Radio Made Just For You (And Your Friends)

Once you sign up (Free of course) and type in the name of your favourite artist, Pandora will analyse your choice, and create your own station which streams songs based on what you typed in.

Now at any point during the stream, you can start telling Pandora whether you liked the song it selected or not. As you may have guessed, it further refines it’s choices based on your ratings.

It gets better. You can combine artist qualities. For example, I can create a Tori Amos stream, and then combine it with the qualities of Sarah McLachlan to better suit my tastes.

It gets better. Unlike typical internet radio, you can pause the stream, and you skip a song you don’t like.

All streams are high quality 128k, but I have had no problems streaming smoothly even with a low-speed broadband connection.

Of course what modern web service would be complete without the ability to share your music tastes? Pandora allows you to email a link of your streams to your friends, where they can listen in to your stream without registering, and they can also have a look at the type of songs you like.

You have have a quick glance at my favourites here.
If anyone wants to have a listen: This is my Acoustic & Folk stream

…And One More Thing…

Best of all – You can create multiple streams. One stream for R&B, one for Rock, one for Jazz, etc. all fully customised to your exact tastes.

Seriously. It’s radio just for you.

Related Links:

Pandora
RadioIo
Shoutcast
Itunes
Windows Media Player

The writer is an avid listener of RadioIo Accoustic and RadioIo Classical on Itunes Radio during work, and thanks his present employer for not being cheap on bandwidth.

Avoid The Hassle of Free Registration… (BugMeNot.com)

Below is a train of thought which goes on in my head more often than it really should.

I’m not a member, I just want to read ONE article from your site.

“Register for NYTimes.com.”

I really don’t want to sign up for anything

  • “Breaking news and award winning multimedia
  • New York Times newspaper articles
  • Arts & Dining reviews
  • Online Classifieds”

That’s great, but I just want to read that ONE article.

“It’s free and it only takes a minute!”

Can I please read that article now?

If the above is how you feel when you see a signup screen when all you want to do is read a story, read on.

If you love filling up forms, click here

Thankfully, the nice folks at bugmenot.com have created a community where like minded individuals can have access to the free logins that others have created and submitted to the site.

If you go to Bugmenot.com, you just tell it what website you want a login for, and it pulls up login details which users have submitted.

A faster alternative would be to use a Bookmarklet or the Firefox extension (which I personally use), which allows you to get the login details right away without having to visit the Bugmenot site. Both these tools can be found on their site.

All your questions on how legal (it is – paid content is not included on the site, only free content is available) and how ethical it may be (that’s up to you), and how you can remove your site from Bugmenot listing can be answered here

Send very large files via email … (YouSendIt.com)

I hate file size limitations on email attachments.

Yes, I suppose they’re there to prevent abuse of email… but when I need to send something large right away – it can be downright annoying!

Thankfully, we live an age where abundant online storage for consumers is available for little or no cost – leading to a number of free solutions to address our issue for today. One of the services which clearly stands out in the crowd is a little service called YouSendIt.

How it works:

  • Send an email from YouSendIt, and attach your very large file.
  • What YouSendIt is doing is it offers up temporary storage space on the web and you are actually uploading your files to it when you attach the file.
  • YouSendIt will send that email along with a link to the recipient, who can then download the file from the web.

If you do decide to try YouSendIt, you should register (free) for their enchanced beta version which includes new features, which includes a proper status bar, as well as contacts list, and a tracking system to see who picked up your file.

You have the option to use a stripped down version of the service where you don’t have to register, but the features there leave much to be desired.

Here’s the weird thing… Yousendit.com does not seem to provide a direct link to the registered version after you’ve signed up… so you may want to bookmark https://beta.yousendit.com for easy reference after you’ve registered.

Specifications:

At this point, it allows 25 downloads per file, up to 50 recipients in a single email, and you can send files of up to 1 Gig in size, and stores it for 7 days, which is pretty solid. You can also set emails to appear as if it came from your own email address, not a YouSendIt address so it does not confuse your recepient.

You can read more at techcrunch, which gave this service a good review.

Security:

Everyone of these services tell you they are secure, but if you’re paranoid concerned about security like me, you might want to zip up the files, and add a password. Of course, send the password to your recipient using your own email, not in the YouSendIt note!

Other services:
I’ve also tried Dropsend, which seems to be a bit more limited than YouSendIt, but I do consider it robust enough to be a backup solution. New services like these are popping up everywhere!

Here is a very good list of similliar services that you can try.

Bonus tip: You can also try this more conventional, but slightly more inconvenient workaround that works with Winzip.

Related Links:

YouSendIt
YouSendIt (enchanced) Beta
Dropsend
Winzip

A better way to browse the web… (Firefox)

130 MILLION Downloads can’t be wrong.

Firefox (Released for free by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation) is the safer, faster, and better alternative web browser to Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Ever since it’s release, it has been receiving rave reviews by taking the web experience to new heights, and today we’re going to take a closer look at it.

getfirefox.com already has simple beautiful explanations of what the Firefox browser can do for you, so I’ll just tell you all the cool things you can do with one click with Firefox:

  • ONE CLICK to navigate the web faster using tabs
  • ONE CLICK to access multiple search engines (Smart Search)
  • ONE CLICK to instantly read your latest news (Livebookmarks)
  • ONE CLICK to access your bookmarks from a toolbar

As mentioned earlier in the post, what is highlighted here is just the simplest of functions. Firefox does much more than this, which is one of the great things about it – that it caters for both the novices and the power users with ease.

If you need more convincing about Firefox, see what others have to say:

If you think IT publications are too techy and cannot be trusted:

  • Wall Street Journal‘s Walt Mossberg said “Security, Cool Features of Firefox Web Browser Beat Microsoft’s IE”
  • Forbes Magazine rated it as their favourite web browser in their best of the web section.

If you think business publications have all “sold-out” and cannot be trusted:

  • Countless other personal testimonials can be found here

… at least try the Opera web browser before going back to Internet Explorer :)

Related Links:

If you are not a Firefox user – Click here
If you are already a Firefox user and want to help spread experience – Click here or here

Visit all your favourite websites in a fraction of the time… (RSS)


Keeping up to date is important to me, and because of this, I have a number websites which I try read every day. Pretty soon however, I ran into the “So many websites, so little time” problem (which plagues every web user sometime or another).

What RSS (Really Simple Syndication) technology allowed me to do was to see what’s on all my favourite websites from a central location, instead of visiting each website individually.

In the example pictured below, I can see the updated stories on four websites at a single glance.


Because my favourite websites were coming to me, instead of me going to them:

I was spending time reading articles I want, rather than spending time finding the articles to read.

Which sites can this work with?

Most of the major websites are RSS friendly (CNN, BBC, WSJ, Wired, Fortune, Forbes, NYT etc.) – even this website has RSS feeds!

How do I subscribe to a feed?

I will quickly go through 4 methods from easiest to most difficult.

Method #1: Live Bookmarks (Requires Firefox Browser)

If you’re using Firefox, you will see this orange symbol on the top of your screen, when you visit an RSS compatible site. Click on the button to subscribe via Liveboomarks (built into Firefox).


Method #2: RSS Reader Chicklets

On some websites you may see a number of mini banners called chicklets.

Once you have signed up for an RSS reader, click on the relevant chicklet to subscribe to the website. While this one click solution is easy, not every site supports them.

Method #3: Copy and Paste the RSS Address

This is the original, failsafe method but takes the most number of steps to accomplish. Look out for just a text link saying RSS, on a webpage.

Just right click the icon, copy the link location, and just paste it into your RSS reader where it says something like “Add feed address”.

RSS Reader Recommendations

It’s hard to recommend any single RSS reader because it all depends on what kind of user you are. In any case, if you just want to try out something quickly, I recommend Microsoft Live.com or Google IG

I have picked six of the RSS readers I’ve had good experiences with, and I have prepared a quick web-based sheet which should help you decide.

Of course this is just a quick overall evaluation model, and there are other factors that you may want to consider. Livebookmarks for example, resides on your PC browser. Most of the other pages described here, resides in the Internet, where you can have access to your feeds from any computer. Some readers check web-based email (Yahoo, MSN, Google) . Some will provide US stock quotes, weather, etc. Take a look around.

All things considered…

What is described here is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what RSS can do, and I will cover more in a later post. Give RSS a try, and you will change the way you use the Internet forever.

This writer is currently using Netvibes.

Update: April 19th 2011. This writer has since switched to Google Reader. It’s amazing back-end integration with many mobile apps make it in-disposable!