Internet Radio Experiment, Part 1: Last.fm & Pandora

A couple of months ago, my hard drive crashed. Fortunately, I’d backed up all of my documents and pictures to an offsite service (Amazon S3, if you’re wondering) but I didn’t back up my music. There was just way too much of it. So the end result is that I kept the important stuff, but lost a lot of music I probably didn’t listen to very much anyway.

I reloaded what music I had on a few MP3 CDs, and I still have some old backup DVDs full of stuff, but for the moment I’m trying out a couple of internet radio options.

We used to use the Napster service for our internet music needs. For $15 per month, you could download as many rights-restricted WMA files as you wanted, and play them on your computer as well as an MP3 player (such as my Creative Zen Micro). But I’d been using the MP3 player less and less, thanks to a new phone that plays MP3s very well. That, combined with the idea of saving almost $200 per year, led us to cancel the Napster full service and check out the free services.

Right now I’m trying out two services: Last.fm and Pandora. Both sites have free and pay services, but I’m only looking at the free services for now. So far, here are my thoughts:

Not too many ads; the slideshow of band images is a bit useless.

Not too many ads; the slideshow of band images is a bit useless.

Last.fm allows you to build a station around a single artist. I started out with, surprise surprise, “Duran Duran radio”. The system feeds you very occasional songs from your chosen artist, as well as a multitude of songs from artists they judge to be similar. The player has a little heart icon you can click, which marks a song as “loved”. You’re also given a library in which to store music. The biggest issue I have is that every song the system feeds you is put into your library; even if it’s something that you’re not terribly into, but allow to play while you go make a snack.

You can only make playlists if you’re a paid subscriber, and those playlists need to have a minimum number of artists and/or albums and/or songs in them. But the alternate is to cull through your library, manually add only those artists/albums/songs you like, and have it play the “Your Library” station. You definitely need a large amount of music in your library, but you can pack it with only stuff you like, and get around the paid-playlist system. The only problem with playing your library is that since it’s only stuff you’ve chosen, you don’t get to discover any new music from similar artists.

Last but not least, Last.fm allows you to listen to some full tracks on demand, up to three times.

There's a lot of empty space off to the right. Weird layout.

There's a lot of empty space off to the right. Weird layout.

Pandora works with the “music genome project”, where the system analyzes songs and gives you a much better selection of similar artists. For example, when it plays a Duran Duran song (I started with Duran Duran radio, natch) it tells me that Duran Duran has “synth rock arranging, a subtle use of vocal harmony, and major key tonality.” Just like Last.fm, you can’t make a playlist (even with a paid account, although you can get a stand-alone software player instead of having to use a browser if you pay), but you can give songs a thumbs-up or thumbs-down rating and add those songs to a bookmark list.

Sadly, these bookmarks don’t seem to do much for your listening experience; it appears that they’re just there so you can remember what songs you might want to buy. You can’t listen to any of them all the way through on demand — only a 30-second sample.

You can add variety to your station by adding in other artists and songs, so that Duran Duran radio can become Duran Duran/Jonathan Coulton/Poe/Alanis Morrisette radio. But the more variety you add, the more weird “related” stuff Pandora will throw at you. And they have some limits on their free service — you can only skip a certain number of tracks per hour, so if they throw you a bunch of crap early on, there’s no fast-forwarding for a while. They also cap your listening at 40 hours per month, which seems like both a lot of time and not enough.

Conclusion: out of these two services, Last.fm comes out a distinct winner. I can both listen to a band-related station that allows me to discover new music, and also to my personally-built library to listen to only the stuff I like. I just have to be vigilant about letting them add in other songs to my library as I’m discovering.

There are many other internet radio services to check out: AOL radio, Live365, ShoutCast, Jango, Slacker, and several others. I’ll continue to poke and prod at more options to see if any of them is perfect for me.

This Week in TV

We had family visiting on Wednesday and Thursday. It was a lot of fun, but also tough as far as TV viewing goes. Those are prime viewing nights! So on Friday we caught up on a lot of shows, and today I tackled some stuff that’s just mine.

Warehouse 13: This was the season finale; the show was a short-run summer series. It improved throughout the season, and I’d say they’re finally figuring out what the show should be. It’s already renewed for another season, and I’ll continue to watch.

The Biggest Loser: Kudos to the contestants for beating the week 2 curse. But no kudos to Bob and Jillian for their nutrition advice. I’ve done more nutritional research than some doctors, and there were a couple of horrifying moments in this show. First off, Jillian told contestants that “calories in, calories out” is a universal truth. Which is wrong. Then Bob let fly the fact that the female contestants eat only 1200 calories per day. I can’t wait to see what other dangerously unhealthy things are done this season.

So You Think You Can Dance: The auditions continue. Not much to say; looks like this season is going to have some excellent talent.

Top Chef: Las Vegas: We’re still betting on a top three of “The Laser” (Jen), “Beardo” (Kevin), and one of the brothers. There seem to be a lot of really talented chefs this season … and a couple that don’t seem terribly great. Why is Robin still there?

Glee: I know a lot of people really like this show. I’m not particularly one of them. I find it to be a bunch of unlikeable people (some of them more so than others) involved in uninteresting or unrealistic situations. I’m giving it one more episode, to try and pull me in. If next week doesn’t rock my world, it’s off the TiVo.

Survivor: Samoa: Poor purple team! They’re getting so little screen time. The yellow team and that grotesque Russell are just such good TV. I have to give the guy props for finding the hidden immunity idol without a single clue, but other than that he’s a horrible little troll. Of course, that’s exactly what the producers want me to think.

Grey’s Anatomy: Two hours of season premiere was a bit much. And it was, overall, a very depressing two hours. Although the surprise ending may bring in some fresh characters and interesting situations.

Project Runway: This season is good, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t have a favorite, and there’s nobody to hate. There are a few designers who are doing well, and could possibly win, but nobody’s designs are setting my world on fire. And there’s no Wendy Pepper or Santino Rice, no loathsome douche who I can love to hate. And that’s half the fun of the show.

Fringe: If you’re not watching Fringe, you should. Supernatural sci-fi mystery stuff, done exceptionally well.

America’s Next Top Model: The shorties are making up for their height with drama. Bickering, infighting, bitchiness, cattiness … it’s all there. Good stuff.

Tonight we’ll tackle the Dollhouse season premiere. I have high hopes, since the show improved through the first season. And of course I watched Dancing with the Stars this week (Go, Sensei Ping!) and recapped the episodes separately. Oh, and tomorrow: The Amazing Race begins! I better pace myself, so the TiVo doesn’t catch fire.

Google Reader: Thumbs Up!

For quite some while now, I’ve been using LiveJournal as my RSS reader. Then, suddenly, their feeds stopped updating, and there was a huge hole in my morning reading routine. So I decided to try out Google Reader for all of my feed-read needs. So far, it’s nice. I do wish I could customize the color scheme the way I can with Gmail, but it’s not an option (yet).

You may wonder, do I really read that many blogs? Can’t I just go to the blogs themselves, instead of consolidating them into one feed? I didn’t think it was that may, until I started plugging them in. Turns out, I follow 27 RSS feeds so far. What kind of stuff do I follow? Well, here are some highlights:

Basic Instructions: Scott’s Web comic. I’m sure this doesn’t surprise you.
Cake Wrecks: a local (to me) blogger who posts pictures of terrible, horrible, professionally-made cakes. A great photoblog.
Cute Overload: adorable animals doing adorable things. Mew!
Dr. Michael Eades: one of the authors of “Protein Power” posts a ton of great stuff about medical studies, low-carb diets, and other meaty issues.
I Can Has Cheezburger: my favorite LOLcat site. Ride over there on your invisible bike.
Not Martha: a Seattle crafty blogger. Married to a creative guy named Scott. Bizarro me.
Passive-Aggressive Notes: a photoblog of some, well, passive-aggressive notes people leave for each other. Delicious.
People of Walmart: the newest photoblog on my list, it’s covert pictures taken of weird-looking people in Wal-Mart stores.
Photoshop Disasters: poorly done Photoshopping (Why does that model have three hands?) compiled for your amusement.
The Comics Curmudgeon: snarky commentary on the daily newspaper comics.

I also read the blogs of several celebrities and pseudo-celebrities: Wil Wheaton, Jonathan Coulton, Scott Adams, and Ken Jennings, to name a few. Plus a few Web comics: wondermark, xkcd, Penny Arcade, Cyanide & Happiness.

Oh snaps, this TV's getting real

It was a huge couple of days for new TV. I could barely watch it all.

The Biggest Loser brought in the heaviest crew so far. We only started watching this show last year, so I only have one season’s experience to draw on. There were a lot of heartwarming stories, and horrifying stories, and tear-jerking stories. My favorite to win right now is Rebecca of the pink team. Don’t know why she stood out to me, but she did. Although the premiere episode pissed me off in the end, because the wrong person went home. I hate that the person who wants it more is conversely the one who “can do it on their own”.

America’s Next Top Model is cooking right along with the shorties. Although they’re hitting some high notes pretty early this season. Makeovers in the first episode? Nudity in the second? Not to mention a surprise elimination early in the second episode as well. I hope they keep upping the stakes, or else they may fizzle fast. As a side note, I’m fascinated at how they have these short girls all wear flats to the judging room. Is this to remind us all that they’re short? Of course, the short-haired spunky girl is already out, so my favorites right now are country girl Laura and quiet, shy redhead Nicole.

Glee is on the verge of losing me. I don’t have any glee club memories of my own, since my school didn’t have a glee club (that I knew of). And there aren’t any characters that I really like in the show. But there are quite a few I don’t like. It’s hard to watch a root-for-the-underdog show when there are no underdogs I want to root for.

Top Chef: Las Vegas is nearing the mid-point, and our early favorites are still in it. Those favorites are “Beardo” (Kevin, the kid with the huge ginger beard) and “The Laser” (Jennifer, the super-intense blonde). I think the top 3 will also include one of the brothers — I’ll go with Bryan, since he’s the elder (and seems to have won more challenges). Go Beardo, go!

Survivor: Samoa looks delicious. 20 contestants this time around, including this dumbass named Rusell who’s lying from the get-go with sob stories about living in New Orleans when Katrina came calling, as well as being a firefighter. He’s actually billed as an “oil company owner”. He immediately thinks he’s manipulating everyone and controlling the game, but if he’s going to succeed, he really needs to stop with the evil smirking grin every time he lies. Like that’s not obvious or anything. I have no favorite yet — heck, I don’t know half of the castaways’ names yet.

The Office opened their season pretty well. Sadly, starting next week we’ll have to watch this show via Hulu — once Grey’s Anatomy starts back up, two higher-ranked (in our house) will be recording in the 9pm hour. Curse the networks for forcing us to choose!

Fringe is the other 9pm show, and it came back with a bang and a wallop. I had two surprise-twist guesses during the season premiere. One (this Olivia isn’t our Olivia) wasn’t right, but the other (Charlie got three-pronged) was. And how can you go wrong with not one, but two X-Files references in an episode? By the end of last season, the show was really finding itself, and this season looks to be some very good, freaky, fringetacular stuff.

Project Runway is moving right along. The challenge made me laugh, since they had to make outfits out of newspapers. Ironic that between when the episode was filmed a year ago and when it aired, newspapers took a HUGE nose-dive toward extinction. They were already headed that way, but the economy sure helped give them a nudge. Overall it’s a decent season of Runway, but nobody’s wowing me yet. On the flip side, nobody’s filling me with rage yet; they’re getting rid of the crapburgers fast this time around.

Next week, the stars dance! Grey learns more anatomy! And The Amazing Race has a team of Harlem Globetrotters — my source tells me that they were the rudest VIP guests they’d ever seen at WDW. Even ruder than Chris Rock. So there’s someone to root against already.

ABC gently breaks my heart

It would appear that this past Sunday’s episode of Defying Gravity, episode #8, will be the last one we’ll get to see. Episode #9 is scheduled to air in Canada (and oh, how I miss getting Canadian TV stations) but none of the rest seem to be on anyone’s schedule.

Yes, it’s Grey’s Anatomy in space. Yes, it’s hard-to-swallow characters and situations, and there’s a lot of suspension of disbelief required. But I was still enjoying the show. It doesn’t hurt that Ron Livingston is so good-looking, and I like Laura Harris so much. Plus, I’ve always had a soft spot for girl-friendly space soap operas (Farscape, anyone?) in general.

I wonder if they’ll put out a DVD with the full 13-episode season, so we can find out a little more about the ongoing mystery. I also wonder when the official cancellation word will come down, since all signs are pointing toward it, but I can’t find any verifiable word yet.

Fall Reality Season: GO!

I just watched the 2-hour premiere of America’s Next Top Model. This season, the contestants can be no taller than 5’7″. Thank goodness, it appears that crazy doesn’t discriminate.

Unfortunately, the most insane girl, a weird jesus freak, dropped out. But we still have the strangely quiet girl, the angry girl, the hick, the girl with the broken foot, and a passel of other tiny lovelies. The most startling thing so far is that Tyra looks like a frightening monster next to these girls. It’s like seeing a beautiful Hagrid next to the little Hogwarts students.

It does disturb me that Tyra keeps calling these girls “petite”. I don’t know that I’d call a 5’7″ girl “petite”, since petite fashion is for chicks under 5’3″. But I’ll still watch.

We also had the first audition episode of So You Think You Can Dance this week. It would appear that tap dancers are going to bring it this year. I’ll be rooting for Ryan Kasprzak.

Coming up in the next three weeks: The Biggest Loser, Dancing with the Stars, Survivor, The Amazing Race, The Next Iron Chef, and probably more. Not to mention the scripted shows. And the reality shows already in full swing, like Project Runway, Hell’s Kitchen, and Top Chef: Las Vegas. Some would say it’s too much TV. I say, bring it on.

Either way, it's weird.

 JU$BLAZE

This could be read two ways. The company could be called “JUS BLAZE,” with the crafty use of a dollar sign in place of the letter S. Granted, that doesn’t make any sense as far as grammar or spelling or anything.  Or, it could just have an artsy dollar sign to separate the words “JU BLAZE.” 

I really, really hope it’s the first one.

Here's the new blog, same as the old blog.

I’m in the process of exporting my blog entries from elsewhere and putting them up here.  There’s a bit of editing; apparently the export/import process doesn’t like special characters like the cents-sign or the copyright symbol.  Plus, I’m culling out a bunch of crap, like quizzes and memes and other boring stuff.

That’s not to say I’m not leaving some boring stuff in.

Overall, I took 2600 blog posts and culled them down to 255.  And of those, 84 have to do with American Idol.  Most of those are episode recaps, and I actually really enjoyed reading them again.