Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fear of Election Fever

I'm voting for Barack Obama for President, and for Jeff Merkley as U.S. senator for Oregon. If I haven't said much about that recently it's out of FEAR - the fear of sounding like some of these people, who seem to represent the norm these days:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Web Sites That Will Take Over Your Life: Pandora

Spending too much of your time being productive? If you like to listen to music - and who doesn't? - Pandora can take care of that.

Pandora, a site created by the Music Genome Project, claims to be using information from its users to create “the most comprehensive analysis of music ever”. A swell idea, and it’s good to think I’m somehow adding to our knowledge of music, even as I sink deeper into addiction.

The concept is deceptively simple. You create your own music “channels” by specifying the artists and songs you want to hear, and then voting on the songs presented to you. Simple, yet surprisingly compelling. Do it right, and you’ll soon find you’ve created several channels you’ll want to listen to all the time.

The friend who recommended this site warned me about the addictive side-effects, but I thought I was immune, at least at first. What you quickly realize is that you’ll build amazing channels perfectly reflecting your tastes once you figure out how to pick the right starter artists or songs for each channel.

For me, Townes Van Zandt was one perfect selection. Van Zandt was a folk singer, an outstanding song-writer, and enough of a cross-over artist to attract attention from the rock world, so the channel plays folk singers like Woody Guthrie, country singers like Johnny Cash, and folk-rock people like Neal Young, Bob Dylan, and Wilco. Best of all, the channel plays a bunch of contemporary artists covering the same musical territory, people I might never have discovered otherwise. Other songs and artists wouldn’t have produced that kind of diversity or quality, but Van Zandt has a distinctive style, so picking him seemed to tell the Pandora database a great deal about what I like.

By contrast, starting out with REM proved to be a mistake. Pandora took that to mean that I like random pop music - again, not an unreasonable assumption given REM's long history on pop radio, but I wanted something more specific.

So check it out, select carefully, and make sure you've got good food and a comfortable chair near your computer. You're going to be spending some quality time there.