Posted by: rubberhawk | April 6, 2009

Spotify – Online Music Round Two

In round One, I discussed an online service called Deezer which allowed you to stream music from the site through your browser at your leisure. Recently, I found another service called Spotify that aims for the same market but does so in a very different way. Rather than using the site directly to stream music through the browser, Spotify works by letting the user download a client program onto their machine and then streaming music through that. The program itself looks very similar to iTunes and has much in common. The service comes in three versions, the first is premium where for €9.99 a month you get unlimited ad-free access, the second is a similar day pass which costs 99c and the third is the free option, which is ad-supported. For a fair comparison (and because I’m a cheapskate), I tried out the free version.

The first thing that struck me about Spotify was the music catalogue. It has almost everything you could want. Because it is a legal service though, the usual suspects aren’t available or are very scarce. Artists like the Beatles and Metallica are missing but there is always an alternative to listen to. The catalogue is easily a lot better than Deezer which has always been plagued by legal issues. The second thing that struck me was the speed. Tracks play just as responsively as if they were local files and the search/browsing features are quick and easy to use. you can go from clicking on the program icon to listening to your favorite song in under 30 seconds without a problem.

Spotify also build on its own design and resources to offer  further services in the form of providing biographies for artists, spotify URLs and artist radio. Spotify URLs can exist for any song/album/artist and can be shared just as freely as any other hyperlink on the web. Links in the biographies also take you to other artists and albums. Artist radio is a simple concept of playlists automatically generated based on a single artist and who other users have been listening  to. All this means it is very easy to browse, share and discover new music without getting lost in a list of bands you’ve never heard of. As for the advertising they put in? Well I haven’t heard any yet, but that may be a bug due to where I’m accessing the service from(Spotify Free is not strictly available in Ireland). Comments/ Blogs I’ve read elsewhere indicate that its not too intrusive.

The service is smooth, sleek and well thought out and is still only in beta testing. This is certainly a promising start-up in the world of internet music services and with rumours of an API in development, it looks set to expand even further.

Oh, and if you’re curious as to what I’m listening to: http://open.spotify.com/album/0G1t4uPgOGjvH9FJcEjXRb.

Posted by: rubberhawk | March 8, 2009

Augmented Engineering

While projecting has long been a cornerstone of any exhibition, it has nearly always been limited to a flat surface. This is starting to change though with the introduction of projection mapping. Using 3d tracking software, the writers of http://augmentedengineering.wordpress.com/ have developed methods of projecting onto surfaces other than flat screens. Primarily the system uses leds on objects in conjunction with light sensrs to allow a computer to track  an object in 3d space and then use a game engine to create the textures in 3d that are projected onto the surface. The results are quite impressive, if not a little disturbing:

Looking at the video you will notice that only one projector is used to project onto three different completely separate surfaces, including a mannequin head, all in perfect perspective with minimal overlap onto other surfaces. The two bloggers are computer science masters students in the University of Illinois and see the technology being applied to new media exhibitions, with this video in question being done as part of a new media art class.

Posted by: rubberhawk | March 3, 2009

Dusty the Cat

Many people see the internet as a dark and scary place where anything goes. However the video below proves that when you do give millions of people an open and “anonymous” forum to work from that the greater good can come out on top. What you have to admire is the level of global coordination that had to take place to investigate the youtube footage and find Kenny Glenn.

Sign the petition

Posted by: rubberhawk | March 3, 2009

From Web Animation to TV Series and Back Again

The world’s first mainstream video sharing site, youtube.com came online in February 2005. Since then much has changed. Originally it started out as a fully open forum. Anything could be uploaded and shared without restriction and worry. Then just as with Napster, the MPAA started rearing its ugly head.

For those who don’t know, the MPAA is the Motion Picture Association of America and protects the rights and interests of broadcasters in America and it does so fiercely. It will hunt down and prosecute anyone who infringes copyright holders. This led to a wide range of anti-copyright infringement methods being introduced onto youtube, which stand to this day. Originally, the MPAA flat out opposed any notion of internet distribution, but gradually this is changing as broadcast networks and content creators realise that the internet is an opportunity rather than a threat.

southpark_051230112227534_wideweb__300x325The best example of a broadcaster adapting to the web is South Park. Perhaps this is because South Park started out as a web animation. Really this is just the creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker coming full circle with the launch of southparkstudios.com. The site is fully dedicated to the TV show with every episode freely available to anyone to watch online. The site is supported by advertising inserted into the video streaming as well as through merchandising and the option to buy episodes to watch offline. The site is identical in operation to all the other South Park streaming sites like allsp.com, but it offers very high quality video in comparison and with the recent introduction of true fullscreen, it has fast become the 1st choice for anybody wanting to watch the animated show online.

This has to date been the best attempt anyone has made to persuade me not to resort to “other” online sources for when i want to watch a TV show. The balance of advertising is just right to not be annoying and it feels more like a fan site than a commercial site. Registration is optional and mainly needed for the forums so I can come and go as I please without the hassle of logging in. I know hulu.com has a similar service, but I’m not in America so I can’t comment on it.

Southparkstudios.com has essentially stopped me illegally downloading the show completely and all it had to do was give me what I wanted. Now if only other networks and broadcasters would take note…

Posted by: rubberhawk | March 1, 2009

The Future of In-car Audio

I can recall from a very early age our car having a cassette tape player (remember them?). Then as the cars changed over the years, the cassette player eventually made way for the CD player and now they have become the defacto standard feature in every car you see. If you wanted a little more luxury in your life you got a CD changer in the trunk.

Nowadays, though a CD changer seems very old fashioned, don’t you think? The majority of head units in cars these days sport MP3 CD compatibility meaning you can fit hundreds of songs on 1 disk as it is. CD changers are fast becoming large bulky boxes that take up trunk space you could be using for your golf clubs(?). In recent years our music collections have changed dramatically. The amount of content has expanded exponentially while the physical size has shrunk just as dramatically. Many people carry their entire music collection around in their pocket on an ipod. Car media has been adapting to this and has a number of solutions at varying levels of the market:

Fusion ipod receiver

Fusion ipod receiver

Fusion Electronics has developed the CA-IP500 ipod receiver. The first thing you’ll notice about this head unit is the lack of a CD slot. In its place is a bay behind the pop-down fascia where you can insert an ipod that is then integrated directly into the unit. no wires, no bulky boxes, no mess. The interface is even transferred from the ipod to the unit fascia. At $399 it ain’t cheap though. Of course other models exist that essentially do the same job but this is an example of where the technology is going in the future. However at that price, units that are this well integrated will be out of the price range of the average music fan for a few years to come. It is clear however that the ipod is the next big thing in car audio sources.

Auxillary input

Auxillary input

Today though we have a solution that has crept into almost every aftermarket car stereo you can buy. That is the auxillary input which is little more than a 3.5mm jack on the front of the head unit. Starting as low as €60 + €5 (head unit and lead respectively) you can have almost all the functionality of the more expensive Fusion IP500 unit. By simply being cheaper and easier to use the aux in connection has become almost a standard feature in the car audio world. This is for a number of reasons:

  • A basic setup is over €300 cheaper than the fusion setup, A high end one can still be €150 cheaper. Thats more money to spend further down the line on your speakers where price has a much bigger effect on quality.
  • It in theory works with anything that has an audio output on it(even phones and laptops), provided you’ve got the right lead.
  • Changing the source is as simple as changing a CD, just plug the jack into something else. This makes sharing with friends devices incredibly easy.
  • Control isn’t just limited to the two people in the front seat. Just pass the mp3 player back to the people in the back. Don’t worry though, you still have final control sitting in the front.

The following are instructions on how to use OSC (Open Sound Control), the successor to MIDI, for sending data from Pure Data(extended edition) and Quartz Composer.

Start up Quartz Composer and open your composition.

For this I’m using a basic music visualiser. Anyone will do. To receive OSC data you need the use the OSC Receiver patch so select it from the the patch creator and drag it onto the canvas and you should have an object similar to this: Fig. 1

The one above is different to what you just inserted. The First output Received Signal is standard and outputs a boolean True when any signal is being received into QC. This is useful for testing. The rest I created in the settings of the inspector as shown in Fig. 2.shot21 Some things to note. First is the port number, 21678. This can be anything that isn’t already used in the system. If the port is taken a window that doesn’t really explain this will pop up. I use this number because it is used by many games and so is a safe bet unless i start up Counter-Strike. Second is the arguments. All should be floats as this is the easiest to work with from PD. Other programs may differ, feel free to experiment. Also every key starts with a “/”. In this example, I’m using /asdf and /qwerty. /test I’ve left for clarity.

Next we move on to PD:

Create the patch in Fig. 3 in whichever pd patch you want to send data from.shot3 The first thing you must do is load the oscx library. Do this by creating the import oscx object and linking a bang into it as shown. Activate the bang to load the library, then create the rest of the patch. If you’re saving the patch for later use it might be useful to use a loadbang instead of a standard one. The two lines from above link to the rest of my patch and feeds two floating numbers into this area. The objects on the right are how PD receives OSC data. If you completed the QC part you will see where the corresponding port number and key names have been entered. When your ready to start sending data to QC activate the connect message box and you’re done.If all has gone to plan you should have data now flowing from PD to Quartz Composer. To stop the connection, simply activate the disconnect message.

If you would like full information on OSC in PD simply create either a sendOSC or dumpOSC object and right click on it and select help to load the inbuilt PD help patch.

Posted by: rubberhawk | February 16, 2009

Deezer, a new approach to online music

Deezer

Deezer

Recently I had to move all my music off of my hard drive on my computer in order to upgrade it to Leopard. This has left me without instant access to my music, some 5,000 songs. In the meantime I’ve looked towards the cloud for a solution…

Deezer is a new online music service that has been online since August 2007. The site offers some 3.7 million songs to stream for free off of their site completely for free to its 4 million registered users. How does it do this and not get attacked by various music rights groups? The French site has become the first in the country to sign royalty agreements with both Universal and Sony which allows it to stream music from its site in exchange for royalties paid to the two groups, the revenue being entirely advertising-generated.

I’ve played with the site for the best part of a few hours now and the system is working well for me. Even in the countryside, where my internet access is a measly 2Mb/s the songs play smoothly and without interruption. Creating playlist is a simple process of searching for the song and clicking add to playlist. It also leverages the power of its users to create what seems like a never ending stream of smart playlists. Of course, every song on the site is available to “purchase”, but with the stability I’ve experienced so far I haven’t even felt an urge to look into what that means.

The only flaw I have seen is with tracks that are listed but are for some reason disabled (just look for The Kings Of Leon). This I suspect is some sort of conflict over either the licensed songs or peer-to-peer distributed songs. Either way, it is frustrating when 70 songs are all listed to you as disabled for an unknown reason. If the service became more consistent and had the support of all the major labels instead of what seems to be a legally dubious combination of p2p and licensing agreements then I could see myself using the service on a regular basis. As it stands it seems to be plagued by the aforementioned license issues that see tracks being taken down.

Online it’s main competitor is probably last.fm but where last.fm focuses on primarily introducing you to new music, Deezer aims to let you access all your favorite songs on demand and as you want. Ultimately you should be able to control your music  as easily as you would in iTunes or Windows Media Player. The only problem being that labels won’t let it.

Posted by: rubberhawk | February 13, 2009

Touchscreens

Touchscreens are great aren’t they?

Everything would be so simple if we all used touchscreens. No longer would we have to worry about interface design or the laborious task that is point and click(It’s so Windows 98 isn’t it?). Everything would be laid out in a smooth virtual 3d space on your screen for you to freely manipulate in your hands. Slide that here, swivel that there, tap this, fling that over there. It sounds fantastic doesn’t it?

The idea of touchscreen technology has been around as long the idea of the mouse has yet the mouse remains the first choice of the computer user. Multitouch, the best kind of touchscreen, was first suggested way back in 1982. These days the whole idea of multitouch seems to be gathering steam once again. This has a lot to do with the release of devices like the iphone. Here I must admit it works very well. However when it comes to my computer I can’t see me getting overly excited waiting for it:

  • I don’t need it. When technology fills a need it becomes popular very quickly. USB did this, broadband did this, MSN did it. People don’t like change for no reason. I have my system that works. I know why my mouse has two buttons. I learned my keyboard shortcuts. I can type at a reasonable speed. Why should I go off and learn a whole new way of interacting with a computer when what i have learned is fine. Touchscreen really doesn’t bring anything new to the table, unless you’re talking about actual tables of course.
  • I don’t want to touch my screen. Even now, the fingerprints, dust and smudges on my screen are annoying me and I might touch my screen five times a day at the most. Now just imagine if i was constantly touching the screen and rubbing my fingers across it. Anyone who’s ever used a touchscreen register in a bar knows how unclean the screens can get when your hands are covered in things like sambuca or beer. I don’t want to spend a large portion of my day cleaning off the smudges I’m being forced to make on my own screen. It’s a self destructive cycle that would eventually lead to my next point.
  • My mouse cost €10 and my keyboard cost maybe another €15. That makes it ok when the computer inevitably decides it doesn’t like me anymore and I fire the mouse at a wall out of frustration. Along with the wear and tear of daily use, input devices take a certain amount of abuse as well, especially the mouse and keyboard. If I have to release that frustration on a touchscreen it costs me a couple of hundred to replace it. A DVD player built into the TV costs less than the price of a DVD to add so in theory they should be built into every TV at a very small cost. However people don’t like them because when they inevitably break you’re stuck with a DVD player you can’t replace without buying a whole new TV. Computers are designed around the idea of being built out of swappable components. If one component breaks you just slot in another one at a minimal cost.

So before i rush out to buy a multitouch screen it needs to basically be useful, durable and cheap. That I think is a couple of years away from mainstream use. The only new use I’ve seen for them is for looking through photos in a natural way. The problem there is that a digital photo frame only costs about €65 these days. This is enough for most consumers to pay and brings it nicely into “the gift zone” of pricing. Multitouch screens, it seems to me, will first become a marketing tool for cutting edge companies to put in their lobby and show off just how cool and edgy they are.

Maybe in a decade or so I’ll put one in my living room because I’m trendy like that…

Posted by: rubberhawk | February 8, 2009

Why RubberHawk?

In choosing a brand name a person has to be very careful. They have to consider things like brand identity, word association, pronunciation in various languages and all that other jazz that corporate brand consultants make millions of euros a year creating. Days and weeks are spent on focus groups and studies on anything and everything about a possible brand.

Its all about the marketing. A name these days has to be designed to stand out as strong and unique. Brand can be a powerful force in motivation. It’s not really a decision to be taken lightly if you believe what the marketing folks say.

RubberHawk came from 3 minutes on a random word generator site on the internet.

Posted by: rubberhawk | February 3, 2009

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