Monthly Archives: September 2008

I’m a prejudiced idiot

Apparently, I’m prejudiced.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I persisted in believing an unfounded assumption rather than taking a few minutes to find out the truth. Because of that stupidity, I missed out on some enjoyment. Luckily, I can make up for that in this case. As I’ll come back to, that’s not always true.

The name “Five for Fighting” applied to a music group immediately conjured up images of hard, driving rock music, with lots of screaming and anger. It’s just the name alone that brought that image to mind. The only music I had heard from the group at that time was “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” which is one of my favorite songs. But I persisted in my faulty image, thinking that maybe this was the song that broke their mold, and the rest of their songs were just as I imagined.

Then I heard a couple more of their songs, and they were all very nice, acoustic piano-driven songs with thoughtful lyrics and beautiful orchestration. And still I rationalized. “Maybe they do one nice song per album.”

Eventually I realized that was a stupid assumption to make and I should look into the group and see if I was missing out on something great. Still, it took a while to do anything about it. In fact, it wasn’t until I started exploring Pandora that I really found out how stupid I am.

I had a lot of my facts wrong. First off, “Five for Fighting” isn’t a group. It’s a guy. He just figured his name was harder to remember than a marketing title, and he was right. I haven’t had any trouble remembering the name (which refers to a hockey penalty) – I just associated it poorly. Which leads to my other large mistake. It’s still amazing to me that presented with nothing but music that I loved, I still had this notion that the majority of Five for Fighting’s catalog would be stuff I hated. I’ve listened to probably 15 of his songs now, and I have liked all of them. Most share the same acoustic, orchestrated, piano-led sound.

While I have a few contenders for my favorite so far, I have to give the nod to the radio hit “100 years”.

That song perfectly blends many of the elements I love. Strong rhythm piano, nice orchestration, a distinctive sound, strong solo work moving into full instrumentation, and lyrics about the passage of time and life. I’m a sucker for the “time passing” motif.

So why, presented with only music that I love, did I persist in my prejudiced viewpoint? Ignorance. Ignorance is at the heart of all prejudice.

There are people who hate others based only on their race. They don’t get to know the people or what they stand for at all – they simply believe their prejudiced views, despite evidence to the contrary. The same applies to religion and politics. There are Republicans who recoil at anything labeled “Democrat” without any knowledge of the message’s content. Likewise, there are Democrats who cringe at anything to come out of a Republican’s mouth, simply because a Republican said it, with no regard for the content of the statement (or its context).

This problem of prejudice is exacerbated by the sound-bite driven, attention-deficit guided media coverage that focuses on isolated incidents or statements with no regard to context, frequently presenting a misleading, or even wholly inaccurate, picture.

Don’t allow prejudice to guide you. Don’t be ignorant. Don’t assume that you know; know that you know. Find out the truth. You don’t have to agree with it, but discover the truth. Unlike choosing which music group to listen to, some choices can have lasting and dangerous consequences.

And on your way out, take a listen to this lesser known Five for Fighting song that I discovered after I started paying attention.

Free music on the internet!

No, I’m not talking about downloadable, put-it-on-your-iPod-and-go music (well, the sites do make it easy to buy the singles as a download). I’m talking about music to listen to when you’re connected to the internet.

There are lots of sites that provide ways to listen to songs online. There are three that I want to briefly touch on. Each require a free registration to do anything beyond listen.

On-Demand: iMeem

First, imeem.com bills itself as “a social network where millions of fans and artists discover new music, videos, and photos, and share their tastes with friends.” That’s great and all, but for my money, it’s a place to get on-demand singles to listen to. Do a search and you can come up with at least one song for most artists. I’ve even searched for artists I was pretty sure they wouldn’t have and gotten a hit. There are a few that don’t have representation yet, but it is a social site, so you can even upload it yourself if you want. It’s like YouTube for music. As a social site, one of its focuses (foci, for you elitists), is sharing. It’s easy to embed clips (not full songs, usually) on your blog, or Facebook, or wherever. That’s a nice feature, though I’d prefer to be able to choose the part of the song for the clip.

Other than YouTube, that’s the best way I’ve found to get a quick hit of on-demand music.

Internet Radio

The other two sites I’ve played with are both “self-programmed” internet radio stations. “Self-programmed” is a bit of a misnomer, though, because it’s not like you choose the individual songs, or even artists, to play on the station. You identify some criteria and it pulls together related songs for you to enjoy. As the songs are playing, you can rate them and that affects the frequency of that and similar songs/artists on the station. That’s still a step up, in my opinion, from a traditional radio station where you have no control over the playlist at all. And because the choices are based on some criteria you entered, any songs/artists you haven’t heard before have a better chance of being something you like.

LAUNCHcast

Years ago I found a site that has since been bought by Yahoo! and is now Yahoo! Music’s LAUNCHcast. I put a lot of time into rating songs on my station, but there are still some surprise entries in there every once in a while that I downright hate. The self-referential ads inserted between every fifth song or so get annoying too. Still, it’s a good eclectic mix of my favorite types of music, and the good far outweighs the bad.

On LAUNCHcast, music is chosen by identifying artists and genres initially, then rating individual songs, albums, and artists. I like that you can be pretty granular in your ratings (scale of 1-100 or a 5-star method – your choice), which gives me a sense of better control.

The downside of this one is that it only works in Internet Explorer, which means I rarely listen to it anymore, because I rarely fire up IE. Plus, it drives me crazy that they refuse to support the other browsers so I stay away on principle for the most part. Still, I do enjoy listening to the station every few months and would listen more if they were more open. If you’re on IE all the time anyway, this may not be an issue for you.

Pandora

More recently (today, in fact), I ran across Pandora.com. This gets my vote for the best way to listen to internet radio. The interface is Flash-based, so over 90% of the world should have no problem with compatibility. It’s also incredibly simple to get started. Just identify a single artist or song that you like and it will identify characteristics in the Music Genome Project database that are shared with other songs to build your playlist (called ‘seeding’). These guys know music, and they are matching that knowledge with technology to support them. It’s a beautiful thing.

There are ads supporting it, but they are visual, and therefore easily ignored.

There are three minor downsides that I’ve found in the few hours I’ve been listening to Pandora. First, the rating system is kind of limited (thumbs up/down), but that’s only a problem for the obsessives among us, I’d imagine (others would use terms like ‘elegant and simple’). Second, there is no easy “embed this song” or “embed this station” options that I’ve run across yet. Again, not a huge deal, but it’d be nice. Finally, a few songs seemed to repeat in a relatively short time period (an hour or so). I’m guessing that’s because I marked them as “thumbs up” and I have relatively little other information that I’ve contributed at this point so it will improve as I add further variation.

Overall, I think I’ll be spending a lot of time on my Pandora stations. The experiments I’ve been doing on it so far are promising. It does a better job of pulling together playlists I’m interested in than Yahoo! does with less interaction. Once I really start putting together ratings and additional seeds I think it will be a great station (or set of stations, as the case may be).

If you’re looking for some background music at your computer, you could do far worse than Pandora. If you’re looking for on-demand tracks, give imeem a shot.

Quick overview for new visitors

Today a guest post I wrote was published on the personal finance blog Gather Little by Little. Thanks to Glblguy for putting it up!

I figured a couple people might wander over here from GLBL, so it seemed like a good time to welcome all new visitors and provide a quick overview of this site.

I post here about a wide variety of things, but tend to focus on a couple areas more often than others. The most frequent are reviews, rumors and news about movies and TV – mostly sci-fi related. I work in the Learning and Development field, so I also post about Learning Industry related topics, focusing primarily on technology-driven solutions to training problems.

The rest of the time I write about personal finance, interesting technology I find around the web, comics I read, and music I write or listen to. I also throw in some posts around parenting and funny things my kids do (I tend to re-read those myself more than anything else). Then there are those things that don’t fit anywhere else – most are things that just struck me as funny.

So it’s pretty eclectic around here. If you like what you see, take the opportunity to subscribe, and please leave a comment or two – I love continuing the conversations. (Don’t be surprised if it takes a while for your first post to show up, though… I get enough spam* that I hand-moderate all new users.)

I’m also considering a new recurring, interactive, and hopefully fun feature on the blog that I’d like to start within the month, so check back for news on that.

In any event, thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy the visit.

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* For some reason, even though it barely gets any hits, this is the most spammed post I have by far.

Chuck Norris will know if you read this

http://www.chucknorrisfacts.com/

I haven’t laughed this hard for a while. I fell off my brother’s couch with tears streaming down my face as I tried to read these out loud to my wife. Here’s a short sample:

  • If you have five dollars and Chuck Norris has five dollars, Chuck Norris has more money than you.
  • There is no ‘ctrl’ button on Chuck Norris’s computer. Chuck Norris is always in control.
  • When an episode of Walker Texas Ranger was aired in France, the French surrendered to Chuck Norris just to be on the safe side.

My favorite?

Chuck Norris destroyed the periodic table, because he only recognizes the element of surprise.

Apparently the man himself checked out the site at some point and identified his favorites. Here’s a sample of Norris-authenticated facts:

  • When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.
  • Chuck Norris doesn’t read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
  • There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live.
  • Chuck Norris’ hand is the only hand that can beat a Royal Flush.
  • Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a watch, HE decides what time it is.
  • Chuck Norris can slam a revolving door.

They’re not all quite that funny, but it’s worth some time.