Missing the Show

Seeing John Hodgman in Flight of the Conchords reminded me of this. Does anyone else miss the show? It’s hard to believe it finished less than a year-and-a-half ago. Seems like ancient new-media history now.

A favorite episode from long before the Scrabulous kerfuffle: Scrabble.
[Tags]The Show, Flight of the Conchords, John Hodgman[/Tags]

I’m Not There *****

Unlike Steve (who walked out before the end!), I loved I’m Not There. It worked so well for me precisely because it was only half-coherent. Like Dylan’s own music, you’re never really sure if it’s deeper than you can possibly grasp, just a cosmic joke, or maybe both. Cate Blanchett nearly steals the show as the only fully Dylan-esque Dylan, but 13-year-old Marcus Carl Franklin is a close runner up (below with Richie Havens):

[Tags]Dylan, I’m Not There, Music, Film[/Tags]

The Song of the Day is…

Liberation Dance from the curiously-difficult-to-find album Anthem for the New Nations (yes, that’s CDN$97.18!) by Dollar Brand.

Unfortunately, I can only share a taste (mp3, ogg).

How music this good could be out of print is beyond me.

[Tags]Dollar Brand, Abdullah Ibrahim, Jazz, Anthem for the New Nations, Liberation Dance[/Tags]

Update: I added the Google embedded Mp3 player as an experiment and resampled the MP3. Apparently the Google MP3 player can only play files at 44.1 KHz correctly.

Doonesbury on Pandora

A sign of cultural permeation: both Doonesbury and my father have discovered Pandora.

[Tags]Pandora, Doonesbury[/Tags]

Success as a Parent

Success as a parent is when your two year old recognizes and demands, at various times, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney (particular tracks), They Might Be Giants, and the White Stripes. And when she knows how to operate her own portable CD player and navigate your cell phone photo library.

These are skills that the Class of 2026 is going to need.

Multitasking and Classical Music

Two recent print-media articles begging to be linked:

First, the Autumn of the Multitaskers in this month’s Atlantic. Despite the age-of-Internet theme, the full article is only available to subscribers. The thesis is one I’ve seen before (e.g., in GTD). Namely: although we might feel like we’re accomplishing more when multitasking, we actually end up less productive, and eventually we’ll lose our minds if we continue to overload our sense. The writer takes the idea further than I’ve seen before, incorporating several astonishing indicators from the zeitgeist, including this NSFW quote from Jennifer Connelly that I won’t reprint, and several foreign policy and domestic political examples of how multitasking is failing our culture and our country.

There is a generational divide at work here. Most in previous generations (say, people over 40) didn’t come online until the Internet was nearly full-blown with spam, entertainment news, popups, advertising, streaming stock quotes, rich media services, IM, Facebook, Flash, etc.. These people generally deal poorly with information and sensory overflow because they had no incremental introduction.

The younger generations (people under 25) don’t remember the world before the Internet and multipurpose portable devices, and thus think it entirely normal to watch TV, surf the web with a few open windows, talk on the phone (perhaps VoIP), and IM at the same time. At least. And they’re bored if they don’t have at least have three or four tasks going simultaneously. This isn’t to say that these gen-Yers are actually doing a good job at it — I find myself often answering computer-related questions from my younger siblings because they can’t actually read a focused page or two of dense text on the computer (e.g., a readme file) in one sitting — but rather that they don’t experience the flow as psychologically overwhelming.

That leaves my (in between) generation, generally people born in the 1970’s. Those of us who grew up with early low-bandwidth wide area networks — I started on BITNET, USENET, and BBS’s in the early- to mid-1980’s — have better mechanisms for coping and prioritizing. Perhaps because our multitasking options were relatively limited, we haven’t leaped on the bandwagon to the same extent as others. I personally don’t mind two simultaneous tasks — e.g., perusing RSS headlines and listening to MP3s — but more than that doesn’t interest me. (I don’t count it as “multitasking” in the same sense where one of the tasks is just waiting, e.g., for code to compile or a large upgrade to download).

Please feel free to destroy my broad generalizations here in the comments.

While we’re on the subject of multitasking, I fall into the “subtle exception” category described in Getting Things Done:

The Multitasking Exception

There’s a subtle exception to the one-item-at-a-time rule. Some personality types really need to shift their focus away from some task for at least a minute in order to make a decision about it. When I see this going on with someone, I let him take two or sometimes three things out at once as he’s processing. It’s then easier and faster for him to make a choice about the action required.

I find this trick particularly helpful in getting unstuck. Frequently, when drafting briefs, I’ve rewritten a sentence eight or nine times and it still doesn’t seem to get across the necessary idea efficiently and without making the reader do any hard work. Switching to another (usually simpler) task, if only for one or two minutes, is often enough to come back and do it right in one swoop. In this situation (and probably only in this situation), multitasking actually saves me time.

Second, the Well Tempered Web (by Alex Ross, music critic with a blog) in this week’s New Yorker. This one is more naturally available in complete form online. Ross manages to weave together Wagner, Snakes on a Plane, the Long Tail, and Rick Rubin. Worth reading. (And while you’re at it, check out Adam Gopnik’s piece on abridgments, which unfortunately is not available online.)

Lest you all think all I read is the New Yorker and the Atlantic: it’s not true. I’m just not at liberty to disclose my other sources at this time.

Opened Pandora

Via Eric Goldman’s recent recommendation, I decided to give Pandora another shot. The short version: Pandora is an intelligent predictive personalized Internet radio service with an arguably sustainable and protectable business model. And by “intelligent,” I mean there are real human brains at work. As Eric explains:

Pandora’s main competitive differentiator is its “Music Genome Project.” 50 trained musicians with at least a college degree in music (called “music analysts”) listen to songs all day long and rate each song on 400 different musical attributes. See the 2005 WSJ article discussing them. By profiling songs this way, the system can predict that a person who likes an artist’s song might like other songs with similar musical attributes. From listening to Pandora for many, many hours, IMO the system isn’t perfect, but it does a pretty good job, and it has definitely hooked me on music that I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise.

They have apparently cataloged approximately half a million songs and the database continues to grow apace. There is also a collaborative-filtering aspect, similar to Netflix and Amazon. I suspect this hybrid between the “wisdom of crowds” and the “wisdom of experts” will be the future of most large content projects (including wikipedia).

My first few hours have returned excellent results. I created a for-working “station” called, lazily, “The Bad Plus Radio” (described as “Avant garde and angular funk/jazz, but not so dissonant that you can’t do mind-taxing work while listening”). You are welcome to listen as well. (See also my Pandora Profile.) The “artist seeds” for the channel include the following:

  • The Bad Plus (of course)
  • Bill Frisell
  • John McLaughlin
  • Medeski Martin & Wood
  • Thievery Corporation
  • Bred Mehldau
  • Oliver Nelson
  • Ornette Coleman
  • Keith Jarrett

Pandora has played several tracks by these artists, but is increasingly mixing in other artists that match up on some axis of preference. I’ve thumbed-up and thumbed-down several tracks from beyond the “seed” set (and will continue to do so), thus driving the predictive engine. I look forward to creating some entirely different channels and publishing the URLs here.

Although supposedly the “free” version is ad-supported, I haven’t heard any ads yet. Maybe that is still to come. In any case, it is probably worth the $36/year subscription cost.

Beyond the specific content I’m enjoying here, it is nice to see a Web 2.0 (or pick your favorite version) business model that doesn’t require a leap of faith to see how it can work.

Of course, they have a Facebook app as well.

The biggest thing in their life is word of mouth

Spot-on profile of Rick Rubin and the future of music in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (probably already much blogged about):

The kids all said that a) no one listens to the radio anymore, b) they mostly steal music, but they don’t consider it stealing, and c) they get most of their music from iTunes on their iPod. They told us that MySpace is over, it’s just not cool anymore; Facebook is still cool, but that might not last much longer; and the biggest thing in their life is word of mouth. That’s how they hear about music, bands, everything.

That last point is key. If any new business model will thrive, it will be one that is built around the social graph.

[Tags]Social graph, Rick Rubin, Music, New York Times, Facebook, Myspace, iTunes[/tags]

Reduced to Quirk

Michael Hirschorn in this month’s Atlantic reduces my generation’s entire cultural zeitgeist to a single word: quirk.

Quirk, loosed from its moorings, quickly becomes exhausting. It’s easy for David Cross’s character on Arrested Development to cover himself in paint for a Blue Man Group audition, or for the New Zealand duo on Flight of the Conchords to make a spectacularly cheesy sci-fi video about the future while wearing low-rent robot costumes. But the pleasures are passing. Like the proliferation of meta-humor that followed David Letterman and Jerry Seinfeld in the ’90s, quirk is everywhere because quirkiness is so easy to achieve: Just be odd … but endearing. It becomes a kind of psychographic marker, like wearing laceless Chuck Taylors or ironic facial hair—a self-satisfied pose that stands for nothing and doesn’t require you to take creative responsibility. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Hirschorn makes a fair point which, I think, can be restated that much of the content I enjoy is really just candy.

The Atlantic seems to have recently figured out its readership (or at least figured out me). Hard to Swallow (by B.R. Myers, who more typically writes about Korean issues) is a pointed moral critique of modern food lovers (chowhounds?) and food writing (including Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, much read by my contemporaries). If I weren’t already a vegetarian, I might take umbrage.

“Insider baseball” pieces on Karl Rove and Michael Gerson are also excellent, and in the case of the former quite timely.

To wrap up this encomium, props to the magazine for its clean new website design, which I believe premiered today, and for including an embedded Youtube video in the online version of the quirk article.

Currently in the iRiver (7/2007)

Occasionally, I update my sidebar to reflect the current contents of my iRiver. Most people read this blog through the RSS feed, however, and never see the sidebar. So I thought I’d provide occasional snapshots here. Lately:

  • Fred Frith: Cheap at Half the Price and Rivers and Tides { Working With Time
    Two very different genre-evading albums (file under — alternative?). Rivers and Tides (the film) left an indelible mark on me, but the soundtrack stands alone. Cheap at the Half the Price is a good example of why we can probably get by for another few centuries just on music that’s already been made.
  • Petra Haden: The Who Sell Out
    Occasionally too cute, but mostly brilliant one-woman-voice-only remake of The Who album. This one also gets its own Wikipedia article. I’m also a big fan of her album with Bill Frisell. (File under — jazz?)
  • G. Love: Lemonade
    Who would have guessed the G. stands for “Good”? I recently went back and listened G. Love and Special Sauce. This one is much better. I’ll post two short clips when I have a minute.
  • Paul McCartney: McCartney and Memory Almost Full
    McCartney has been a solo artist for longer than I’ve been around. His first album includes at least two tracks that rival anything from the Beatles (one of which even has its own Wikipedia entry). His newest album is not quite as good, but really, it’s hard for McCartney to really go wrong. (Typically engrossing New Yorker profile.)
  • The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan
    Thanks to Steve for reminding me what a great song My Doorbell is.