Discovering Music: Pandora, GrooveShark, Zune, iTunes and Turntable

For the longest time now I’ve been discovering music through the normal ways. Radio, TV, movies, concerts, recommendations from friends and colleagues. Until the internet and it’s awesome services came along you would still be discovering it through the “normal” channels. Early part of the net came along and you can start downloading tracks from your favorite sources. But still, this requires you to search and know what you are looking for. This doesn’t mean anything at all except easy access to music you already know and love.

Come Web 2.0, with collaboration and crowdsourcing, we now have more things helping us find music that we like thus my title. I’ve been lucky to have tried all the services above even if half of it is not available in outside of US (sadly and video services are even harder).

Let’s sit down and figure out how I’m loving or loathing these cool names.

Grooveshark, Zune and iTunes for me are similar sources just like before. They allow you easy access to music by allowing you to purchase or listen to the music easily. They have their own recommendation engine but none of it is really impressive. I’ve been a user of GrooveShark, Zune and iTunes for more than two years now and I see them as a place to download/buy/listen to songs that I already know are good and that I just need a copy of. Nothing new here. Just think of your record store but online.

AND IT ALL CHANGED Come Pandora. Pandora is just AWESOME. The guys behind it did a really amazing job of figuring out why you like a particular song. They realized that songs have definite patterns, tunes, compositions that they can accurately recommend a song that you’ll like. This is just awesome. I can’t stress it enough. I was easily hooked listening to new songs and artists that I know I would like because of some magic algorithm the folks at Pandora made.

Surprisingly, after a while, knowing what you want gets tiring after a while. I missed the diversity of listening to something totally new and discovering something totally far off from the music I traditionally liked. The novelty wore off and I eventually went back to the traditional ways, online radio being a major part of it.

Then comes Turntable.fm. The current poster child of the startup world, turntable allows you and your random friends to play music together. No magic algorithm or pattern matching, just you and your friends and a huge list of streaming music. So far I’m enjoying the experience as it allows other to play music that you might or might not like. Rooms are created so that there can be some sort of organization depending on the genre of music you are listening to. I’m still enjoying this experience as just like Pandora, it recommends new music but with real brains behind it so repeats or super similar songs are eliminated. Having a human brain behind the selection of the songs actually makes a huge difference.

I don’t know when I’ll get tired of turntable.fm but there’s a reason why radios haven’t died til now. Until then, keep on rocking, where ever you found those tunes 😉


Using Jquery in CakePHP

In case you need to use jquery in cakephp. (not really ‘in case’, but more of ‘use it!’)

3 Things you need to take care of.

  1.  In your App Controller (if you want to use it for the whole app else you can put it at a specific controller)
    var $helpers = array( 'Javascript' );
  2.  In your default layout or your view
    link('https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.5.2/jquery.min.js', false);
    I’m using google’s CDN for my jquery js file
  3. Test if your jquery works. Place this in your view (.ctp) file.
    $(document).ready(function(){
    $(“a”).click(function(event){
    alert(“Thanks for visiting!”);
    });
    });

Number 3 above is of course just for testing. Once you get it working you should place your js files in the webroot folder so that it’s not messy. Else you’ll be dependent on the where the view is when you change your javascript.


Testing your Facebook App in your Localhost

When creating an application that uses Facebook as an authentication method, a couple of things that you have to keep in mind so that you can test locally.

  1. Register your app at developers.facebook.com – Straight forward. This is where you’ll get your App ID, Secret ID and all them IDs.
  2. Change your app settings.
  3. This should reflect “Site URL – http://localhost.local/” and “Site Domain – localhost.local”

  4. Change your hosts file to reflect the change. This should point your 127.0.0.1 to localhost.local
    You can find the hosts file at C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts. Make sure you run your notepad or any editing tool as administrator to be able to make the change.
  5. If you’re using IIS then you should take note of the default web site. It’s more straight forward if you’re running apache (I’m using XAMPP) as you just need to put it in the correct folder.
  6. If you didn’t get it right you’ll get an API Error Code: 191 API Error Description.
  7. When you start testing your app you should view the URL http://localhost.local/ instead of localhost only

Hope this helps and enjoy building your app!


Zune 4.0 and Windows 7

Finally, finally, finally got Windows 7 on my home machine. After much waiting for Lenovo’s final drivers for Windows 7, I finally had quality time with my T400. Done with the installation I had no problem getting the correct drivers as Lenovo has a very nifty tool on discovering your machine. This will then download and install the necessary components. So in case you didn’t get your Windows 7 pre-installed, just look for ThinkVantage System Update.

Onto Zune! Hey! Finally got me one of the Zune players from one of my colleagues. Shout out to Chewy for that! Not the Zune HD but a Zune none the less. Comes with all the syncing goodness and podcast madness.

So, what’s up with the title you ask? If you read my previous post on the Zune here, you’ll know just how much I love it. With Windows 7, they made some cool features just for the OS, harnessing the power of that amazing taskbar. And can I say I just love that taskbar (and Windows 7 in general)

I opted for the none-iconish task bar. Best of both worlds if you ask me 😉

Jumplists FTW!

For the Windows 7 uninitiated, jumplists is a new introduction to the Windows family. Making the taskbar more functional, jumplists is a fast and easy way to access common tasks on the application without having it on focus. This makes things much easier and faster to do. So far a bunch of apps already has it and more on the way. (Saw some Firefox jumplists a couple of days back). If you want more nerd rave on jumplists, check out Aimee’s blog on making your own jumplists.

Aero Peek

Another taskbar productivity addition is the aero peek. Now all these terms confuse me but I don’t care as long as it works. Essentially on the Zune, it allows me to have access to the basic functions just by hovering on the icon. Hover, some control pops up, click next then boomz! (lol)

That’s it for me and hopefully you guys have tried out Windows 7. I’m so happy that one of my non-techy pals enjoys her Win7 so much that she became an informal evangelist. That’s you RainWalker!

Hit me with Zune and Windows 7 questions!

~Eugene


Zune 4.0 Review

I’ve been an avid user of the Zune since I got my first Zune pass and I’ve been downloading tons of music and getting to know amazing artists all through out via the marketplace. With the release of the Zune HD, the Zune team also updated the software that comes with it and I have nothing but praises so far. (read my zune pass post here for some context)

Well this ain’t a review on Zune HD just because I don’t have one and I don’t think I’ll have one anytime soon. (Darn restrictions! I bet I’m not alone) This is about the Zune 4.0!

The Zune team made a great job of updating the player in so many aspects. I’m always a firm believer that small changes have great impacts and this update just screams it right into my face. There was no major UI change but rather small functional updates that just makes the experience overly enjoyable. From viewing the mix art to the smart DJ, the Zune just has this easy feel to it that it’s actually a joy to fiddle around and get lost.

The first screen introduces a number of new things that you can do. Focusing on the common things that one does on a music player it gives you easy access to the things that you would most likely do. Rather than wasting your time looking for that album, Zune arranges things for you and gives you place holders for your favorite music.

Smart DJ is something new as well. They have this magic algorithm that lines up related music based on the artist that you feed it. Not just that, but it also connects to the Zune Marketplace for you to discover related artists (this I love).

Mixart was changed to be more viewable. I don’t know if the bigger albums have any significance but I do enjoy looking at this more than before.

Hovering over an album now gives you options on what you want to do with it. Unlike before where you only had one option: PLAY

More pics below and most of it speaks for itself. Conclusion afterwards. 😉

Picks for ye

Music for ye

Music for ye

You get the point

something new though

Apps for ye!

Apps for ye!

Now this is a Zune HD only thing but the best part is YOU, yes YOU can develop your own apps for it. XNA based, I’m still unclear how you can “sell” your app though or how they’re going to distribute an app you submitted. We’ll see in time.

Overall the whole software was vastly improved. Already great on its own, the Zune team revised it with the launch of the Zune HD.

Try it out by going to http://zune.net/en-US/ Just tell them you’re from US and all’s well 🙂

Any Zune users out there? Give me feedback!

PS. My iTunes updated the same day as the Zune. dundundundun. Although I still hate it coz it looks like a board full of ads. 🙂

Hit me! comments below

~eugene


pptPlex PowerPoint 2007 add in from Live Labs

Are you a frustrated PowerPoint user? Do you wish there’s a better alternative aside from Keynote? Want to make your presentation better even if you suck at presenting? Well say no more! pptPlex is for you!

Developed by Microsoft Office Labs, pptPlex is a play on how you can extend PowerPoint and how a different way of presenting your slides can affect your whole presentation. This is achieved by deviating from the normal linear way of showing your slides. Whenever you are presenting in PowerPoint it assumes that whatever content you have is just linear, meaning you go from slide one to slide ten just like you are counting. PptPlex deviates from this by giving you the flexibility to jump from one slide to another while still maintaining an overall flow. Check out my short video below

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q4h3K7FS-0

I’m using the slides made by my friend Sile covering Windows Azure (http://innovativesingapore.com/blogs/mic/archive/2009/07/28/getting-on-windows-azure-in-3-days-day-1.aspx learn it here). Notice that you make your slides in the normal way, you then go to the pptPlex tab to use its features. From here you can then arrange your slides in sections. Using pptPlex’s slideshow, easily navigate between disconnected slides without having a disconnected experience when presenting.

I found this very useful especially for slides that has a lot of sections. If you need to skip one section you don’t need to move forward a lot. Just unzoom and double click on that section then proceed with your slides. PptPlex shows offs its capabilities with the different backgrounds that it has built-in. From timelines to flowcharts this is where pptPlex really shines.

This can be really helpful for those drill-in slides. Students out there would love this as it provides another dimension to your presentation.

Some cons though as some PowerPoint objects disappear when you use pptPlex. (Inking for one) None the less, if you want to spice up your boring slides, this can just be the thing you are looking for. But always remember not to overuse it. Use it to complement your slides rather than be the center of it. If your presentation is simple enough, then a linear presentation might be the best rather than making a complex zooming in and out type of slides.

So stop reading and give it a shot. Never hurts to try out something new especially on things you present in and out. You might even get a better reception using this one.

Download it here:  http://officelabs.com/#pptplex

Give me a shout out if you like it or hate it

~Eugene


IIS 7 SEO Toolkit

Launched early June ’09, the IIS 7 SEO toolkit is designed for web developers and administrators maintaining huge websites. A module that easily installs to you IIS 7 this toolkit gives you the ability to check your website for inconsistencies regarding SEO.

The toolkit has three main components:

  1. Site Analysis
  2. Sitemaps and Sitemap Indexes
  3. Robots Exclusion

Of the three, I have only used Site Analysis so far. Even though being a third of the toolkit, the Site Analysis alone will give you enough insight into your website with considerable action on your part. If you don’t know anything about SEO, this toolkit will definitely overwhelm you. The Site Analysis will be going through every link in your site and evaluate it based on a number of SEO criteria. A quick analysis of my site would show you how many SEO standards I have already broken. Strange considering my site is small and I try my best to fill up every detail that I can with my Platinum SEO toolkit plugin for WordPress.

Let’s see how a standard Site Analysis would look like.

Running the analysis on my site would give you the initial Site Analysis Report Summary

These are basic SEO knowledge that everybody with a website should know. By the looks of it I’ve been skipping a lot of details when I’m putting up new posts.

You can then drill down to a specific entry to see how many of times you violated it.

The best part is when you don’t know that specific error, you can drill down and it will give you a description so that you won’t make the same mistake again.

And it will even show you where in the code your error is. From here you can then base your next steps to resolve this “problem”. I found this really helpful especially since I assumed everything would work out fine since I’m using WordPress and a number of its plugins. Apparently you still have to check some of the code within. So far I haven’t dissected it and I still rely on the plug-ins as I found this enough for my blogging needs. Obviously, the toolkit is designed for more than just blogs.

More screenshots of the SiteMap and Robots Exclusion

Sitemap

I’m satisfied with WordPress sitemap plug-ins and thus I don’t really care about this one.

Robots exclusion allows you to tell where the crawler should go to. WP has the same feature and I don’t know much about site crawlers yet to care.

Well that’s a quick intro to IIS 7 SEO Toolkit. Given more time I would definitely like to explore how they define the SEO criteria. There’s probably a document for this but as of now I can’t find any within the MS sites.

Again, this tool is not for everybody as not all has access to their IIS but for sure website admins would definitely benefit from this.

Links you need to read if you want to know more:

http://www.iis.net/extensions/SEOToolkit

http://learn.iis.net/page.aspx/639/using-iis-search-engine-optimization-toolkit/

http://learn.iis.net/page.aspx/643/iis-site-analysis—video-walkthrough/

Give me a shout out if you discover something interesting with the toolkit or if you found the docu. 🙂

~Eugene