Cheat-Seeking Missles

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Two New (Much Loved) Technologies

New technology has brought me great joy this week, specifically my new Kindle and the Web site Pandora.

I have my wonderful step-dad Bill to thank for my Kindle. In his 80s and still an early adaptor, he had his in tow when he and Mom passed through in March. I ordered one immediately, and it finally arrived late last week.

In a nutshell, Kindle is an electronic book, about the size of a publishers paperback, that can hold a couple hundred titles. But that's just the beginning.
  • It's astonishingly easy on the eyes, letting you read for hours with no strain at all.
  • Besides books, you can subscribe to any of a couple dozen daily newspapers, and magazines and blogs.
  • It lets you annotate pages, save pages as clippings, look up words you don't know and change font sizes in a jif.
  • While it costs $399, it lets you buy new hardbacks like Douglas Feith's new War and Decisions (list $27.45, Amazon $18.45) for much less, $9.99 in this case.
  • You can email a document to Amazon, and it is quickly downloaded into your Kindle for reading.
  • And the technology is simply amazing.
Kindle (as in kindle a fire or kindle the imagination) uses a built-in cell phone to put the searchable Kindle Store onto the screen, with its approximately 150,000 book titles. Once you pick one, it's downloaded in seconds, using the same cell phone connection -- but I don't pay a cell bill or even know the cell number; it's just part of the deal.

Because of this easy technology, book purchases become very impulsive. I heard Doug Feith on Hugh Hewitt last week, looked up the book at one stop light and bought it at the next.

Pandora, Radio from the Music Genome Project was interjected into my life by Incredible Daughter #2. Here's what the Web site says about itself:
We believe that each individual has a unique relationship with music - no one else has tastes exactly like yours. So delivering a great radio experience to each and every listener requires an incredibly broad and deep understanding of music. That's why Pandora is based on the Music Genome Project, the most sophisticated taxonomy of musical information ever collected. It represents over eight years of analysis by our trained team of musicologists, and spans almost a century of music (and soon several centuries!).

Each song in the Music Genome Project is analyzed using up to 400 distinct musical characteristics by a trained music analyst. These attributes capture not only the musical identity of a song, but also the many significant qualities that are relevant to understanding the musical preferences of listeners. The typical music analyst working on the Music Genome Project has a four-year degree in music theory, composition or performance, has passed through a selective screening process and has completed intensive training in the Music Genome's rigorous and precise methodology. To qualify for the work, analysts must have a firm grounding in music theory, including familiarity with a wide range of styles and sounds. All analysis is done on location.
Here's how it works. Incredible Daughter #2 brought up the Pandora home page on my computer and asked me to name a musical artist I liked. I said James Taylor, she typed it in, and now I have my own radio station that plays music with high genome matches to Taylor.

Some of today's selections have been: Oh Baby, Don't You Loose Your Lip On Me and Everyday by James Taylor; I Thought I Was A Child by Jackson Brown; Nothing I Can Do by Ben Taylor; Lonestar by Nora Jones and Stop This Train by John Mayer.

If I ask it why a certain song was selected for this mix (a two-click request) it says:
Based on what you've told us so far, we're playing this track because it features rock accoustic arrangement, folk influence, the subtle use of vocal harmony, mild rhythmic syncopation and acoustic piano.
Or some such thing. It changes a bit depending on the song that's playing.

You can give Pandora feedback by voting thumbs-up or thumbs-down on songs, and can purchase any song you like with quick pop-ups of your preferred music buying site.

And of course you can have multiple playlists. As much as I like the music that's playing now, I'm going to go back to the home page now and create an entirely new radio station for myself; this one keying off another artist I like a lot, Fryderyk Chopin.

Ahh ... that's nice.

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