Friday, November 14, 2008

Speaking of the Future




xboxrulz  just posted a blog about how we are now living in the future. I agree, and my thoughts are directed to more than just videogames. In particular I'm thinking of the recent advances of the music industry. For once I do not refer to my unyielding and probably unhealthy yearning for an iPhone - no, this time I am thinking about Pandora, the brainchild of the Music Genome Project. I believe the website represents a shift in the "radio" paradigm - and to be honest, I don't see how traditional broadcast towers are going to stand for long against it.

Pandora's specialness comes from the way it selects what music to play. The site chooses songs based off user-generated criteria. A lot of websites and applications do this, but in a limited way. Whereas iTunes and Winamp allow the user to pick only the genre of his or her music preference, Pandora searches through hundreds and hundreds of musical categories; from music signature, to whether the song features solo vocals, to whether the song features clips of other music, etc.

Here's how Pandora describes the process.

"Together we set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like."

The translation of all this is that the music a person ends up hearing through the software is entirely specialized to his or her particular taste. What is more, its a fairly simple process to start - the user simply names a given song or artist of preference, and the site takes it from there, producing a varied playlist of multiple artists with songs that share your selection's musical traits. The user refines the playlist by approving or disapproving of a given track. Pandora analyzes these decisions to improve its understanding of what the user is looking for. 

The process is sharp enough that after providing imput for eight songs I no longer had to approve or disapprove anything - the software was able to predict exactly what I was looking for. As time passes, the website more and more accurately predicts my taste.

Some downsides - you can't select a specific song to play because that violates copyright law. If you're looking for one particular tune you may be out of luck - Pandora even stops you from skipping through songs willy nilly in order to find a given track. But considering that listeners of normal radio have the exact same problem, I believe that we can all restrain our collective fist shake.

A plus - Pandora pays for a music license, meaning that big name bands will be available. Lesser known bands can also get access if they contact Pandora directly. If you're looking for mainstream music, the site can help you.

The thing I really want to emphasize is how wonderful this website is for seeking out new artists to listen to. I found out about the website last week and already lready I've discovered several groups whose sound really suits me and whose work I'd consider buying. When you tire of iTunes or your friends' suggestions, check out Pandora - it will expand your horizon.

Right now, the only thing traditional radio has on this website is that it is portable. Even that edge is disappearing. Those of you with an iPhone can download Pandora as an application, I believe. (Lucky bastards.) Hopefully it wont be long before internet radio becomes commonly handheld. In the meanwhile, you and I can enjoy this little glimpse of the future, and listen to some great music to boot.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Experience I will Remember Forever


Tonight is a moment I will remember forever.

The moment that CNN predicted a victory for Barack Obama was a powerful instant in time. A room that was filled with students, half black and half white, shouted with a single voice as a clear majority was announced for the man I had supported since the Iowa caucus in January 2008.

I ran outside a few moments later, along with the rest of the crowd. It was a calm Boston night - cool, but not cool enough to discourage the people who had voted for the next president from leaving their homes and from announcing their victory to world. The cheering of that crowd held, and always will hold, a great feeling of satisfaction for me.

I withdrew to watch McCain's concession speech, which, being the first I had heard in my adult life, reminded me that there is such a thing as magnanimity in American politics. Say what you will about the man - McCain was a person who suffered for a cause he believed in, and at the close of his greatest political effort urged his followers to follow behind his opponent - an act, I believe, that reveals this nation is not as divided as we would sometimes believe.

History, friends, belongs not only to the distant past.

I typically am very hesitant to be caught up in adulation for any given cause or person. My education has been enough to convince me that eloquent and yet misguided people have ridden a wave of political enthusiasm to win the conscience of a people who would have been better served otherwise. But tonight, as I left the celebration of my peers to join the celebration of the streets, I felt like a moment had occurred, an achievement had been earned, a victory had been won for which I could earnestly and unabashedly be proud to have participant.

The walk towards my train home lasted twenty minutes. Whenever during that time I came across any person I let out a whoop! and held out my hand. Not once - not once - was the gesture not met with equal enthusiasm and an equally broad grin. Not once, whether the hand was extended to a white man, to a black woman, or to the passengers of a nearby cab - not once was the smile and whoop! not returned. I enjoyed tonight a sensation that I rarely feel, the unabashed joy of being part of a righteous collective, all laughing through the streets on a wonderful journey home.

I could hear the city cheer.

At the moment, folks, I don't care about the fact that I live in an oasis. I don't care that my home is one of the few places in the country where someone of my religious, political, and moral mindset can live in peace. Despite all this, I know in my heart that Barack Obama will be a powerful force of good for this country. The president-elect will represent an America that is proud to be a member of an international community, champion the defense of human rights, and aggressively seek to save the world from a climate crisis that threatens to doom us all.

"Change" and "Hope" are not empty, abstract words tonight - not to me. Now, more than ever, I am proud to be a United States citizen. I believe that tonight my country is one step closer to being part of a united and just world.