Pandora: Radio Done Right

In May there was a series of specials called “The End” on CBC Newsworld about the end of traditional media. I finally got around to watching the first one about radio tonight, and found both a wealth of music options and, in my opinion, confirmation that terrestrial radio is dying a slow and agonizing death. The most important find was Pandora, a web service for creating your own streaming radio station.

Back in the late 1990’s while I worked at eBay, I used a vaguely similar streaming radio service. You rated songs as they came up and based on your ratings the station slowly tuned itself to your interests. This was fantastic until the music studios had the service shut down. Their argument? Adding artists and rating them meant the listener could basically listen to whatever they wanted whenever they wanted for free.

Now that the media conglomerates are finally starting to experiment and relent just a little, new web services have better options for licensing their content. Pandora allows you to start listening to music right away without setting up an account. An account gives you greater access to songs and you can listen on different computers, though only one at a time. A paid subscription (around US$36 a year) gives you ad-free access to the Pandora site.

Pandora station setup began with choosing a song or artist I like. I chose my favorite band: Fleetwood Mac. The service then began playing a Fleetwood Mac song, followed by other artists’ songs that Pandora believes are similar in sound. This similarity comes from what Pandora calls the “Music Genome Project” – a group of musicians and music experts who analyze music to capture those attributes than can relate songs together. As songs play, you give them a thumbs up or a thumbs down and the service will tailor itself based on your votes. My “Fleetwood Mac Radio” station now includes Gin Blossoms, James Taylor, Queens of the Stone Age, The Pretenders, and artists I have never heard of but who turned out to be great. You can ask Pandora “Why did you play this song?” and it will respond with something like “Based on what you have told us so far we’re playing this track because it features electric rock instrumentation, a subtle use of vocal harmony, major key tonality, electric rhythm guitars, and many other similarities identified in the music genome project.” How true đŸ™‚

If you want more variety in your station, you add addition songs or artists and the station will search for wider ranges of music. I added another favorite band – The Weakerthans – and a different “genome” of music started to queue (leading to songs from the Beatles!) You can create separate stations for specific sounds, or stations with a wider variety of favorites across multiple genres.

All of this activity is through Flash, done correctly. Navigation is easy to figure out. Other features of Pandora include the ability to search for songs and albums for purchase on Amazon or iTunes; read more information about the song, album or artist; and send family and friends your stations and lists of bookmarked songs. You can even add your lists to your blog (something I may add here in the near future). Here is my page if you want to take a listen to my station:

Music options today are nearly endless. Pandora is a wonderful example with its mix of streaming favorites and new discoveries. The only thing missing is portability. The day Pandora becomes available in my car will be a box opening worth living for.

The Fear of Falling Up, the Joy of Falling Down

NASA – Space Shuttle News

I’m not sure there has ever been video quite like this. Thanks to the LifePort Staff Blog for pointing it out (via other sites). The most breathtaking of the bunch is “Right forward SRB camera” but the remaining have their moments as well, including views from underneath the waves. There were moments when I needed to grab my chair in delighted terror.
Why has NASA not been equipping their spacecraft and rockets with several web cams to capture launches all along!? This is perhaps the most powerful public outreach practice available to space agencies. There should be video (and audio) feeds available from both the launch vehicle and the ground whenever possible.

Public support requires public involvement, whether direct or passive. Do not tell us it is exciting…show us the real dynamics of space travel! I hope these videos are a sign of more good things to come from NASA.

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Saying Goodbye to Horse Racing

Derby winner Barbaro fighting for life – Yahoo! NewsGrowing up, one of my favorite things to do around my birthday wasto watch the Kentucky Derby. I continued that tradition through collegeand adulthood.

Barbaro won the race this year, but it wasthe first I did not watch. Although I love watching the horses race,lately I have felt uneasy about how humans treat other species. Usingan animal in sport for our own amusement suddenly seems like animmature activity.

A couple weeks later, Barbarowas the favorite for the Preakness, but a horrific accident at thebeginning of the race left one of his legs broken and fans waiting tohear if he would make it through the day.

Hisrecovery was immediate and successful and for a few weeks it seemed hewould only continue to improve. Sadly, that is no longer expected to bethe case. Laminitis has infected his left hind leg and horses donot generally recover from as severe a case as his. His doctor saysthat they will know more in 24 hours. Should he show signs ofdiscomfort in his gait, he will be shot to death. Experts say there isno coming back once it reaches that stage.

The pending death of Barbarosuggests that we humans should reconsider our exploitation of animals.I would never support a sudden ban on the use of animals for sport,work, or experimentation, but I hope that we soon begin the longprocess of weaning ourselves from our dependence on them. We would notbe where we are today without the exploitation of animals, buttraditions do not need to continue indefinitely, especially whentechnology is rapidly changing all of the former rules.

It is very difficult for me to say goodbye to the enjoyment of watching the Kentucky Derby. However, the Barbaro’shorrible experience convinces me that this is the right decision.Everyone needs to reach such decisions on their own, through constantreflection and rational thought, without unnecessary fear mongering andlegislation. I have reached my own limits of comfort, and I hope otherswill begin reflecting on these issues as our traditions fall away.

Thisis a time when we can begin thinking about our relationship with otherforms of life on this planet. Are we stewards, owners, consumers, orfamily of other species? Where do they fit in as technological progressleads us inevitably toward profound changes within our own species? Dowe bring them along, leave them alone, or consider them at all?

The challenge now is simply to begin thinking about these issues andrevisiting our most cherished beliefs and traditions. A few years fromnow, there will only be time for action.

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Make Your Reservations

Genesis I Mission Update 12 July 2006 | SpaceRef – Space News as it Happens

From Las Vegas to outer space, Bigelow Aerospace has contacted their Genesis I spacecraft after a successful launch earlier today from Russia. Genesis I heralds the coming age of space tourism. The spacecraft was designed to test hardware, software, and procedures for inflatable orbital hotels. ISC Kosmotras proved the Dnepr rocket
Bigelow Aerospace hopes to launch two spacecraft per year, each one ramping up technology with lessons learned toward the ultimate goal of orbital accommodations for paying tourists. Genesis launched from the Ukraine aboard an ISC Kosmotros Dnepr rocket.

Virtual Worlds Diversify Activities

The Virtual Worlds are starting to get interesting:

What I find most fascinating is that most of this activity is occurring before the Grid truly arrives. Some games and virtual worlds are hosted on local grids, but the wider merging of all of these local grids into one global Grid is still a few years away. Even without mature technological platforms, virtual worlds already rival physical countries in both economy and population.

Virtual world activity in Asia, especially South Korea, is especially promising. These are places where all demographics visit the virtual worlds, unlike the United States where teenagers and young adults dominate.

If you do not already, what features would convince you to start spending time in the virtual worlds, and what features keep you away currently? I get bored with the virtual worlds easily and annoyed by people who knock me off mountains or say bizarre things as they pass by. Also, I do not like any delay in the graphics, but there is often latency (probably my 4 year old computer’s fault).

On the flip side, I am interested in the educational opportunities offered by virtual worlds. Museums, universities, galleries, and digital representations of real world art pieces are popping up in the virtual worlds. If you can master the building skills of each virtual world, then creating your own virtual space become much more interesting. So far I have only dabbled, but building and scripting tools are becoming easier all the time.

Accessing a virtual world is free or relatively cheap, but actually building a home/island and business costs money (though far less than trying to do the same in the real world). I wonder if people will start buying or renting cheaper and smaller places in the real world while they start spending more time in the virtual worlds? There is some indication of this trend in Japan already, where people are renting “Media Immersion Pods“. Maybe we will all live in “Media Immersion Pods” a decade from now. Take care of the body’s physical needs in the real world, explore the endless landscapes and possibilities in the virtual worlds…