Posts filed under Software

How to Discover New Music, pt2: MusicIP

Since Jessica from MusicIP already made a nice comment on yesterday's blog entry, why not start with the MusicIP Mixer as the first in my arsenal of music discovery tools. A piece of software that creates mixes from music in your mp3 collection might not seem that useful for 'music discovery' at first. In all honesty though, I simply love MusicIP - it is really the central nervous system of my music collection (and obsession). And in many ways it is vital for the discovery of new music. I really don't know where to begin with the MusicIP Mixer, it's so very flexible. At its core, it does an audio analysis of the songs in your collection and 'fingerprints' them based on unique audio properties. Once your collection is indexed, you can simply click on a track and create a playlist from your collection of other stuff that sounds similar. This departure point is really what sets MusicIP apart from social networking tools that create indexes of your similarities with other peoples' music collections (of course these have considerably different uses). Its not picking tracks because Joe Blow, who also really likes Joy Division, has a lot of Smiths in his collection. Its picking tracks because they actually share common acoustic properties. That's just the tip of the iceberg. You have a truly awesome amount of control over tweaking various properties of your mix, such the influence the artist's overall style versus just the properties of the 'seed' song. Mixes can also take into account the era of the song (or artist), make connections not just by acoustic similarity but by connections between artists, and my new favourite, popularity.

In recent beta releases, MusicIP has made more and more use of data that is not just collected from your computer, but that has been anonymously aggregated on their servers from MusicIP users across the globe. This sharing of data allows MusicIP to create an index value of how 'popular' a particular track is based on how many users have it in their collection. So I can create mixes of anything from 'hits' to 'fringe' selections from the catalogue. These matches are very accurate since their based on the song's fingerprint, not mp3 tag data. So tag discrepancies don't matter in correctly identifying the track. This same data aggregation allows the MusicIP server to also create index values for things like 'Song Begin', which is the first year when the track was available. Since most compilation alblums are indexed with the year of their release, this lets me get a much more accurate collection of 'seventies' music for example, even if they are from greatest hits albums released in the 2000s.

You may wonder what this all has to do with music discovery. First of all, with a collection as large as mine (going on 35,000 tracks), sometimes the best discoveries you make are from within your own collection. Nowadays, we're no longer sitting in record store listening booths for hours before carefully making our selections. I have streams of music coming into my collection pretty much daily, between music blogs and eMusic downloads, etc. Even though I try to give all the new stuff a decent listen, stuff just gets by me. I can't tell you the number of times that I have 'discovered' a track that has been in my collection for weeks or months down, after it pops into a MusicIP mix of other stuff I like. Brilliant.

MusicIP also facilitates importing xspf playlists from FIQL, and tag-based lists from Last.fm (which I will get into more when I cover those sites). Importing them wil pull all the songs from your collection that are in the playlist into the mix, and can either 'replace' the missing ones with similar sounding songs or just ignore them. Grabbing other peoples playlists and then discovering that your collection has 80% of the contents has been a great incentive for me to go and check out the other 20%.

The MusicIP Mixer also has a discovery window, which has links to free mp3 files recommended based on the contents of your current mix. To be honest, I haven't found a lot of great new music through this function, but it has some good potential.

There's still a lot more that MusicIP can do, but I can't possibly describe it all. You simply need to head over to their site and download the free version. When you discover how wonderful it is, upgrade to the full version like I did. It's well worth it.

Posted on September 25, 2008 and filed under Software, Tunes.

AudioScrobbler for Roku Soundbridge

It seems someone has finally come up with a way to submit tracks played on a Roku SoundBridge to Last.fm. This means that my musical habits can be tracked in almost all my listening environments, since I installed my new 'closet stereo' in the bedroom featuring the Roku SoundBridge (actually branded as the Pinnacle SoundBridge HomeMusic) and sweet JBL Spot Speakers. The sbPopper (terrible name) is now in beta (which strangely expires in June- will I have to pay after that?). I'll have to wait until I get home to try it out, but I'll let you know how it works.

Posted on April 5, 2007 and filed under Software, Tunes.

Virtual Mixtapes

A mixtape for the iPod generation- and beyond! A recent post from Wendell over on the official MusicIP blog, Hear Here, introduced me to a technology to swap virtual mixes (playlists) online using MusicIP and the FIQL website. FIQL is a pretty interesting idea by itself, but when combined with MusicIP, it becomes quite powerful. As Wendell explains, MusicIP can import any FIQL playlist by finding matches from your own music library. If it doesn't find exact matches, it looks for something similar in musical style. These replacements are usually quite smart. For example, I was playing around with some 80s new wave playlists, and nearly all of the replacement songs were also 80s new wave (Mano Negra somehow snuck in). Impressive. You can see from my comments on the original post that there are still some problems with the text pattern and music fingerpring recognition, because the import misses about 10-20% of songs that should match tracks in my collection. Some of these seem to be discrepancies between exact spellings of song titles or artist names, but some others I can't explain. Even if the track names don't produce a match, Wendell claims that the acoustic fingerprint should match if the songs are the same, but this doesn't seem to be happening for me. Let's take a smallish (25) but varied playlist as an example:

01   Huddle Formation   The Go! Team
02   Rocks Off   The Rolling Stones
03   Tangled Up inBlue   Bob Dylan
04   That's Entertainment   The Jam
05   I Feel It   Urban Myth Club
06   Kinky Afro   Happy Mondays
07   Interzone   Joy Division
08   Astro   White Stripes
09   Helicopter   Bloc Party
10   Hounds Of Love   Futureheads
11   Unfinished Synphony   Massive Attack
12   Pass It On   The Coral
13   Hard To Explain   The Strokes
14   See You Soon   Coldplay
15   Good Old Days   Libertines
16   Should I Stay Or Should I Go   The Clash
17   Big Exit   Pj Harvey
18   Do You Remember The First Time?   Pulp
19   Note To Self: Dont Die   Ryan Adams
20   Big Mouth Strikes Again   The Smiths
21   Slide Away   Oasis
22   Country Feedback   R.E.M.
23   Spectacular   Graham Coxon
24   All Along The Watch Tower   Jimi Hendrix
25   History   Verve

MusicIP recognized that I had 12 of the 25 tracks, and could replace a further 11 (meaning it couldn't match 2). Replacing caught a further 2 in my library (The Go! Team, Jimi Hendrix), but missed Massive Attack (typo: Unfinished Sympathy, not Synphony) and Pulp (punctuation seems to confuse the text filter). While the replacements were again "interesting", I would have preferred that the missing tracks from the White Stripes, Coral, and Coldplay would have been replaced by other tracks that I have from the same artist (maybe this can be added as a preference?). Overall, not bad, but an improved text filter should be able to catch the typos, punctuation, and alternate spellings. Same goes for the the acoustic pattern recognition.

It's still a really cool system. If you want to try it yourself, make sure you have the latest version of MusicIP (1.7.1) and a beefy music library. While I might use FIQL to share some interesting playlists that I create, I don't see it replacing mix CDs for friends. The whole point of making mixes for me is to introduce someone to new music, not music that's already in their collection.

Posted on November 11, 2006 and filed under Software, Tunes.

Music Discovery and Music Connections

I've been having quite a lot of fun with the social-networked music scene via Last.fm. While I have made a few nice musical discoveries, the real selling point is really just seeing my listening habits plotted out weekly. It's strangely compelling and addictive. Around the same time that I started looking at these online discovery services, I read a couple articles at Pitchfork and The Guardian that mentioned some toys to take music discovery back to your own music collection.

I've been playing with MusicIP for a couple months now, and absolutely love it. Basically, it indexes your entire music collection, and compares each artist and song to its database where currently 20 million songs have been analyzed and 'fingerprinted.' After going through my MP3 collection (currently sitting at over 25,000 tracks), MusicIP makes connections between the songs and artists and can create custom playlists based on a song or group of songs that you select. There are sliders and options to fine-tune how varied you want the mix to be. Click on 'Send To' and it sends the playlist to whatever media player you're using. It's truly cool, and makes a real fresh way to discover music in your own collection. Test out the playground to see how the concept works.

Here's an example. Right-clicking on The Clash from the library, I can select Similar Artists just to see what kind of artist connections there are. Some are a obvious (T. Rex, Blondie, The Dead Milkmen), some not (Prince, Twisted Sister?!?). Overall, much more post-punk (Smiths, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Echo and the Bunnymen) than their punk contemporaries (The Stranglers, The Damned, Sex Pistols, Ramones, etc are all missing). Also, no ska or reggae artists to reflect The Clash's Jamaican influences. Ok, so not perfect, but what does the actual playlist look like? I chose London Calling and a rather narrow mix to create a 10-track playlist of:

Visage - Pleasure Boys
New Order - Perfect Kiss
Siouxsie _ the Banshees - The Killing Jar
Rhythym Mission - King Blood
The Replacements - Achin' To Be
Berlin - Now It_s My Turn
David Bowie - Diamond Dogs
Power Station - Murderess
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner
The Clash - Spanish Bombs

Overall, not a bad list, but predictably more in the 80s groups that followed The Clash (not just because I have more of those in my collection- I have plenty of 70s punk). And no, I didn't even know that I had Twisted Sister in my collection.

There are a few other alternatives to MusicIP: Audiobaba and Echo Nest. I would have tested them, but Audiobaba never got through indexing my collection without crashing (MusicIP's two-pass process works really well in comparison), and Echo Nest isn't released yet.

Nowadays, instead of putting my whole collection on shuffle or manually picking out a playlist I'll let MusicIP do the hard work. Even if the results don't always fit what you'd expect, isn't that the point of rediscovering your own music collection?

Posted on August 9, 2006 and filed under Software, Tunes.

Online storage with WebDAV

boxnet.gifIt seems that with the cost of memory storage and bandwidth falling like crazy it is only a matter of time before we have all of our files on remote servers instead of/in addition to our desktops. A number of online storage services are already showing the way. I've been playing around with Streamload since Christmas, but never really being satisfied with a purely web interface for file management. Plus their new (often promised) MediaMax service never seemed to emerge. Still, 25GB of free online storage is nothing to sneeze at (even if the bandwidth limits make it rather difficult to actually use that 25GB). I was looking for a solution where I could save any file to a virtual online drive right from Windows, and it seems that I've found it. Box.net also offers free online storage (but only 1GB), and the ability to connect to your account as an online drive in Windows via WebDAV. Normally, you can't map it to a drive letter, but I'm testing a client called WebDrive that allows me to map WebDAV and FTP sites as virtual drives. Just setup a new site under WebDrive as 'https://www.box.net/dav' (tick Connect Securely), enter your email address and password, and choose a drive letter (W: for Web, of course!). Now you can save files to W: from any program under Windows. Great!

Thanks to Bloody Fingers and Uneasy Silence for the tips!

Posted on June 14, 2006 and filed under Organization, Software.

Mobile Phone Sync for Google Calendar

The biggest limitation to my use of Google Calendar so far has been the lack of synchronization to my mobile phone (so I can ditch the Filofax). While it is still in its infancy, there is now the promise of a solution to this problem with the release of gcalsync. I managed to actually get it to upload an event from my phone to my online calendar, but none of the online events downloaded to the phone (what's up with that?). Also, I have to give the program permission about ten times during its sync to read and write data to/from the phone and use the network interface (despite setting 'Ask First Time Only' permissions from the program's Java settings). So like the warning label says, still not ready for prime time, but let's hope this (or a similar application) offers the two-way synchronization desperately needed for Google Calendar to succeed.

Posted on June 6, 2006 and filed under Mobile, Organization, Software.

Entering the Social Networked Music Scene

profile.gifI've seen regular references to Last.fm and Pandora in various blogs, online searches and the like. While they sounded interesting, they remained on my 'to explore later' list until I was prodded from an email from a friend. While Last.fm and Pandora cover a lot of the same area, they each have certain strengths (as outlined in numerous and varied comparisons). Basically Pandora is a bit better for getting exposed to new music, while Last.fm is better at cataloging your listening habits and creating a broad range of recommendations and social networking connections as a result. And thanks to a nice little online code mashup (via downloadsquad), you can have the best of both worlds: a Pandora player that submits its tracks to your Last.fm account. Last.fm ProfileRight now I have Audioscrobbler plugins reporting my listening habits from my home media pc (so far only from Windows Media Player, since the Meedio MeeCharts export plugin that should do the job doesn't seem to play nice with the current audioscrobbler API. :-(), MediaMonkey on my laptop at work, Last.fm's own player, and the abovementioned online Pandora player hack from Real-ity. So about the only parts of my listening habits that aren't being data mined are radio, CDs (played in an actual CD/DVD player), and my portable mp3 player (though if I upgraded to an iPod, this too would be covered).

Still not sure how this breaks down by scary vs. cool. You can see what I've been listening to by checking out the Recent Tracks badge in the sidebar, or my Last.fm account.

Posted on May 9, 2006 and filed under Geek Gear, Organization, Software, Tunes.

Google Maps improving European coverage

Yet another Google story, sorry. It looks like Google Maps is finally upgrading the resolution of satellite photos and adding street maps for some major centres in Europe, which began with the coverage of Torino (Turin) for the Winter Olympics. While Rovaniemi obviously doesn't count as a major European centre yet, there are higher resolution satellite photos and street maps for Jyväskylä (unfortunately covered in snow and cloud) and Savonlinna. The street layer in Finland now includes the highway network, as well as the names of different city neighbourhoods (kaupunginosat). More interesting from an academic perspective, is the resolution upgrades to several key areas of the Kola Peninsula. Last year I put together a Google Maps mashup for students on my annual excursion to the Kola showing points of interest like military installations and heavy industrial pollution. The interesting this is that the new high resolution images are concentrated in military sensitive areas instead of Murmask, by far the region's largest city. Unfortunately these images, too, were taken in winter so have low light, snow and cloud cover. But the area around one of the biggest naval bases (Nerpich’ya, Nerpa and Olenya) near Polyarny is quite clear, with naval vessels and nuclear storage facilities readily visible. But Gremikha is probably the most obvious evidence that these locations were chosen for military purposes (at some point in their history, not necessarily by Google). Thousands of square kilometres of barren Arctic coast and tundra, and there just happens to be several very high-res images of the area around one of the Northern Fleet's biggest nuclear sub bases? Not that I'm complaining. This is way cool.

Posted on April 25, 2006 and filed under Finland, General, Software.

Google Calendar is Live

Hooray and finally. Techcrunch reports that Google Calendar, aka CL2, has gone live. I'm off to check things out, and will report back later. Hopefully this is the calendaring solution that I've been looking for, or soon will be. Update (14/04/06): So after playing around with Google Calendar for a bit yesterday here are some initial impressions. The interface, as you would expect, is user-friendly and smooth. After using 30 Boxes for a while, one thing I might change would be to have the Quick Add box directly above the calendar instead of having the search box. Google is obviously search-centric, but I think I'd be adding new calendar entries more often than searching so why the extra mouse-click?

The import feature worked a treat on getting my existing calendar entries from 30 Boxes, though it did screw up the time zone somehow and my times all ended up ten hours off. Not sure if this is a problem with 30 Boxes, Google, or the ical format. Adding additional calendars was too easy, as I didn't even need to go to a site like iCalShare to find the webcal link. I just searched in Google Calendar for 'Barcelona' and found a syndicated calendar for FC Barcelona's match schedule and added it as an overlay. Obviously, one of Google's biggest assets in rolling out a calendaring solution is its huge user base thanks to Gmail. So Google Calendar's integration with Gmail is a no-brainer. I haven't tested it yet, but the claim is that Gmail will look for things that look like events in your incoming email and give you an option to add them to your Google Calendar. This sounds like a cool feature, and I might need to set up some forwarders and filters from my work email to forward these to Gmail/Google Calendar. One issue is that I use multiple Gmail addresses for different purposes (such as listservs), and I'm wondering if it would be possible in the future to link different Gmail accounts with a single Calendar.

On the negative side, there is no SyncML support, but I didn't really expect that would be available at launch. Given Google's earlier commitment to mobile devices, I expect they'll come up with something eventually (if not SyncML, then perhaps their own Symbian mobile calendar app). Another minus is that it doesn't seem to work in Opera, which means it doesn't work on the Nokia 770.

One feature that looks interesting, but that I'm a little suspicious about is the Event Publishing feature. Being able to publish a calendar event on a website and have a user click on it to add it to their calendar was one of the early promises of calendaring standards. The Event Publisher feature looks to be an attempt at this, but it's not clear whether they are following the iCal standard, or if this is Google Calendar-specific. I would sincerely hope that Google would follow the open standard so that anyone could add the event to the calendaring solution of their choice (so long as it supports vCal/iCal). I'll play with this some more and see whether it could be made to work with other apps.

In conclusion, I'd have to say that Google's product looks like a winner, and I'm switching from 30 Boxes to make it my online calendar. Similar sentiments are being heard all over. Sorry, 30 Boxes.

Update (17/04/06): I just found a very nice review of Google Calendar on Charlene Li's Forrester report. In addition to some insightful commentary on Google Calendar's existing features, she has some inside info on future developments (like sync for Outlook and mobile devices), and what an open and extensible Google Calendar API might means for the world of 'time'. Give it a read.

Posted on April 13, 2006 and filed under Organization, Software.

Google Calendar leaked screenshots

So is the competition in online calendars heating up, or is it now over? After months of rumour and spied links to the fabled Google Calendar (CL2) is reveled by Techcrunch in a series of new screenshots and beta details. For me the sheer weight of Google's popularity will drive membership and development of Google Calendar (it integrates with Gmail), and leave competitors like 30 Boxes, Airset, and CalendarHub in the dust. The power of online calendars is only fully realized through social networks-- your friends, family and coworkers that you are sharing events with -- and Google has one of the biggest networks going thanks to Gmail. Many of the "innovative" features of Google Calendar CL2 appear to be taken directly from upstarts like 30 Boxes, such as the 'QuickAdd' function, which looks like a clone of 30 Boxes' best feature, the 'One Box.'

For me, I'll be happy to share my most intimate scheduling details with Google, provided they support SyncML to sync my online calendar with my SymbianOS phone.

Posted on March 8, 2006 and filed under Mobile, Organization, Software.

Skype for Symbian 3G

I had only decided this week to upgrade my phone to a nice shiny new 3G Symbian-based smart phone (the Nokia 6680), and now Skype have announced a versrion that runs on the very same kind of phone. While this sounds initially promising, the fact that you'd be paying 3G data rates to get the quality equivalence and latency of a satellite phone (according to the article) leaves a lot to be desired. As I commented before, there are already third party applications to run Skype on a Symbian phone via a client on your PC (over Bluetooth or GPRS). If the quality is ok, I can see myself using this more than a dedicated Skype app. If the quality is ok, you're basically using your phone as a Bluetooth headset to extend Skype on your PC. We'll see how this develops. Now I'm just waiting for the phone. Maybe Agustin, who is in Barcelona for 3GSM, can find out more for me.

Posted on February 17, 2006 and filed under Geek Gear, Mobile, Software.

Backpack vs. PBWiki

Among my recent exploration into new tools for personal organization, and calendars I also came across a nifty online 'space' called Backpack. While a fairly simple idea, Backpack lets you easily store and organize all kinds of information on a simple web interface. Some of the killer features are being able to email content to your page, and access it via a mobile device. Despite its myriad of practical uses, the thing I find myself using it most for to keep a list of wines I want to try, which I check with my mobile phone when I'm in the wine store. I also keep all my flight itineraries on a 'travel' page so I have them accessible from anywhere. PBwiki logoAmong the critical comments about Backpack have been 'you could just use a wiki to do that.' Now I figured setting up my own wiki would involve a lot of work, but the folks at PBwiki claim “PBwiki makes creating a wiki as easy as making a peanut butter sandwich”. So I signed up. The fact that I've been signed up with PBwiki for three months and haven't yet created any content there might tell you that Backpack is far easier, but PBwiki does come with much more free storage space.

So, I'm seeking advice from the experts. What content should I be using my wiki for, and what should I be using Backpack for? For staters, I think I'll keep my wine list on Backpack. Let me know your thoughts.

Posted on February 15, 2006 and filed under Organization, Software.

Old DOS Wargames

Last night I had a memory jump back into my head of eagerly waiting every day after school for a new computer game. I finally remembered that it was Broderbund's The Ancient Art of War. For a game that came out in 1984(!) it still stacks up against the generations of war and strategy games that it inspired. I remember first seeing it on my friend Mike Segelken's Mac (with deluxe monochrome graphics, no less), and I was instantly hooked. It's no surprise then, that AAoW still has a strong fan following on the web, and the game itself is available as a free download from this fansite. Now getting old DOS games to run on a Pentium-based Windows PC is more complicated than you might think (since Windows is still built on top of old DOS code). One problem is graphics, the big problem is speed. While I was able to get AAoW to work with by tweaking some properties for its BAT file, the best solution is to use a DOS emulator called DOSBox. It's a bit tricky to set up the program switches at first (you'll remember why it was so easy to give up command line interfaces for GUIs), but once you have a working shortcut, you're off to the races. I was even able to set up a virtual floppy drive so I could edit my own campaigns. For those of you who want to try, here's my command line:

'C:Program FilesDOSBox-0.63dosbox.exe' c:aaowwaret.exe -fullscreen -c mount a c:aaowa

(The AAoW files are in c:aaow, and I created a subdirectory c:aaowa to be the virtual floppy).

Turns out that The Ancient Art of War isn't the only great old DOS wargame available as what is called abandonware. I also found another favourite, Command HQ. I think this was the first game I ever played with two players over a modem. I can still remember screaming at my mom not to pick up the phone when Jay and I were trying to establish a connection. It seems the game supports LAN/Network play (it came out in 1991), but I'll bet trying to figure out DOS layer network drivers and getting it to connect over the Internet will make me nostalgiac the simplicity of a modem-to-modem connection. But if Jay's up for it...? :)

Posted on February 9, 2006 and filed under Games, Software.

Gmail - staggered rollout of new features?

Gmail is weird. I read yesterday about several new features like contact groups, vacation auto-reply, and mobile browsing, but when I went to check them out, I couldn't access any of them on my account. Then this morning, when I was making some changes in another account I have (I use several for various archiving and filtering tasks), the features were there! Back to main Gmail account, refresh... still not there. So it seems Gmail staggers the release of new features across its accounts instead of rolling them out universally. I'm not sure if this is aggravating or really smart (or both?).

Posted on December 17, 2005 and filed under Organization, Software.

Software for organizing information and writing

OneNoteAlmost everything I do at work involves taking information from disparate sources, and going through various thought processes to generate finished written pieces, whether they be reports, course outlines, research articles (or even blog entries). Recently, I've been looking for software that can help me with this process. The needs are essentially twofold: storing and collecting the raw material (notes, ideas, emails, information from articles and the web, etc), and developing a structure in which to fit this information. At first I thought that the Google Desktop Scratch Pad might be a good place to start. I've become used to always having a spot on the right side of my desktop to note down random bits of information. Unfortunately, the Scratch Pad is just too limited for what I need. I'm now testing out two products that aim to address these needs. OneNote is a Microsoft product (but I'm trying not to let that prejudice me) originally developed for Tablet PCs as a kind of virtual notepad. It works with both keyboard and pen input, and you can drop pretty much anything onto a page and rearrange and organize these notes any way you want. It has a broad range of uses, and I'm really starting to like it. To get an idea of what OneNote is all about, check out Chris Pratley's OneNote Blog and his entry on how he uses it.

For brainstorming and developing outlines, MindJet's MindManager is absolutely brilliant. It has a simple but powerful user interface that makes it a snap to create relationships between ideas. It uses the mind map approach, and I'm finding it really useful for creating the structure for my next research article. Like OneNote, you can attach various snippets of information or link whole documents to the structure that you develop.

I'll continue testing these programs as I write reports, take notes in meetings, and do my thesis research. Hopefully, I'll be able to give a more in-depth review of their strengths and weaknesses after using them more.

Posted on November 13, 2005 and filed under Academic, Blogging, Organization, Software.