I’m one of those cogs who uses Apple mp3 players simply because I feel they do really good job. I tried to fight iTunes for the longest time, but I eventually gave into it because, like Microsoft Outlook, it’s the default music program that everyone uses and every 3rd party application supports.
I’ve been using a couple of 3rd party application to enhance my iTunes experience. I use last.fm to keep track of what songs I’m listening to so that I can display them on my Facebook/FriendFeed profiles. It also does a good job of suggesting new music to me based on my listening habits. What last.fm can’t do is generate random playlists based on the music I already have in my library.
I had been using software from the Filter for generating random playlists. Unfortunately, since I updated their software I can’t find the “create playlist” feature anymore. That made me pretty excited about the announcement today that iTunes 8 will support generating random playlists using a new feature called “iTunes Genius”.
The Power of Random
I’ve been an iTunes_iPod user for four years. In the past month I picked up an iPod Shuffle because I usually leave my 60 GB iPod at the office, and I wanted something more portable and more suitable to an active livestyle. I’ve been really impressed with the batterly life and the portability of my iPod Shuffle.
What I’ve enjoyed the most is the “Zen of Shuffle”. Since the shuffle only selects and plays random lists of music, I’m having more and more occassions of “wow, I love that song! I haven’t heard it in so long!!” instead of listening to the same 10 albums I’ve been listening to for the past month.
Of course, the big gotcha with Apple’s new iTunes Genius feature is that you have to sign up for an iTunes Music Store account. At first glance, you might think this means you have to give away your credit card information, but click the None button to make that all go away.
Keep reading if you don’t see the “None” button.
How To Unlock the iTunes Music Store
A lot of people don’t bother turning on the iTunes Music Store because it requires a credit card. Actually, there’s a couple of ways of bypassing the credit card requirement. The most common method is:
- Find a free iTunes “redeem” code somewhere on the web
- Open iTunes and go to the iTunes music store
- Click on the “Redeem” link (on the right side, near the top)
- You’ll be prompted to create an iTunes music store account, but with the “None” option unlocked so you don’t require a credit card.
If that code doesn’t work, then try this search to find a new one:
The first time you try to use Genius, it’s going to take a while. Especially if, say, you try to use it with a 100 GB music library on the day the Apple iTunes music store opens up for the first time. I’m guessing it’ll take around an hour to scan your library, so you don’t want to try it for the first time while sipping a latte at the local coffee shop.
It took an hour for my library to scan so that I could start using Genius.
Play a song and click on the atom icon at the bottom right hand corner to start using Genius. Unlike TheFilter, you can only use one song to “seed” a random playlist. Playlists can be saved, but they aren’t saved automatically. The playlists are named with the name of the song you used to start the playlist.
Genius playlists are limited to 25, 50 or 100 songs in length. They can be refreshed to get new tracks.
The good news is that you can create even larger smart playlists based off of multiple genius playlists. This could be a great way to build a large constrained random playlists for your iPod Shuffle.
Unfortunately the playlists are stored in your iTunes metadata file, so there is no easy way to access them from your Xbox 360. Sounds like a good idea for a new freeware app. :)
I’ve often said that one of the qualities of the hardcore geeky is that we have needs that sane normal people don’t have. That’s why there are so many web startups focused on RSS when most people don’t have a clue what RSS is — the geeks don’t realize that their need to have a continuous stream of information and never miss an update from a site they are interested in isn’t the way a lot of people use the internet.
One geek itch I’ve been wanting to scratch is to be able to listen to my MP3 collection using the recommendations from Last.FM. I’ve you’ve never heard of Last.FM, it is a music service that lets you listen music as a radio station over the internet. I’ve been using it for a year and a half and I love it; it’s helped me discover so much good music.
I’ve found two ways to automatically build MP3 playlists using online recommendations. The first way uses iTunes replacement Media Monkey and some extensions to connect to Last.FM (thanks TJOHO!) and the second way uses software by a new startup called The Filter (backed by Peter Gabriel).
New Year’s Resolutions for 2008: release my “Best of” lists in the beginning of January, not at the end of January.
I’m sad to say that I listen to the same genre of music I did ten years ago. The list is all electronic music (house/electro) and if that isn’t your bag then you should skip it. All links go to last.fm previews of the music unless otherwise noted.
How to Make Your Own List in iTunes
Your very own “Best of 2007” list is only a smart playlist away.
- File >> New Smart Playlist (or Ctrl-Alt-N)
- Set a range of dates from Jan 1 to Dec 31
I tried to include videos for each of the artists, so this post is video heavy.
Click on the More link to go to the music + videos.
You’d be hard pressed these days to buy a CD player that can’t also play MP3 CDs. My stereo, car, DVD player and XBOX 360 all support MP3 CDs as well as regular CDs. Using MP3 CDs in your car instead of the original CDs is a good idea because it saves you from losing the original if your car is broken into. Using MP3 CDs instead of regular CDs can give another big advantage — you can fit between 7-10 albums on to one MP3 CD. It’s like having a CD changer even if you can only play one CD at a time.
An MP3 CD is a regular old data CD like any CD you put in your computer. Any program that burns CDs can create an MP3 CD, but I like to use iTunes because I’m already using it to manage my music library.
How to Burn an MP3 CD in iTunes
- Put an empty CD in your CD/DVD burner
- In iTunes select File >> New Playlist (or Ctrl-N)
- Click on Music and drag the songs/albums to the new playlist you created
- Click on the new playlist and then click on the Album column header until it says Album by Artist 
- Rick click on the new playlist and select Burn Play List to Disc
It’s that simple.
 If you don’t click on the Album column then the MP3 CD will be created with all of the songs in one folder. It’s better to create it with one folder per album because then you can use the next folder feature in your car / stereo to switch albums on the MP3 CD.
Death Clocks use statistical information to let you know when you are going to die based on your habits (with smoking and obesity being the worst factors). The iPod Death Clock (via) is an interesting little web app that figures out how much longer your iPod has to live based on the serial number (how old it is) and how you use it (while running, on the bus). Needless to say my 3rd generation iPod is getting on in years.
I happened upon a blog called Contester the other day that tracks Internet freebies being given away by other bloggers. Blog contests are a great grassroots way to advertise your blog (if you aren’t too spammy about it — some of them are). They’re usually worth entering because you have a 1:20 to 1:50 to 1:200 chance in winning depending on how popular the blog running it is. A few people are giving away iPods, and hope I win one as my iPod is on it’s last legs.
- Future Shop Canada is giving away an iPod Touch
- Success for your blog is a blog about making money through blogging and they’re giving away the new iPod video nano
- It’s Write Now is a blog about writing tips and they’re giving away an 8GB red iPod video nano
- Darin’s Search Marketing is giving away a Free iPhone
- FiddyP is giving away Vmoda Vibe headphones (he’s the guy who does the Hello Stumblers! plugin)
One of the downsides to owning an iPod is the iTunes music store. The music has DRM copying protection measures that are a huge pain in the ass. Enter the new Amazon MP3 store that sells music for cheaper than iTunes without any copying protection — you’re free to do whatever you want with the music you own. Luckily there are also quite few blogs giving away Amazon gift certificates or straight up PayPal.
- Mac’s Money Blog is offering $50 gift certificate (he also does FinanceFavorites.com, a digg-like site for financial tips)
- Anton is offering $50 over at his Halloween Blog
- Ryan444123.com is offering $75
- John Cow make money online and micfo web hosting are offering $500 (that’s a lot of songs)
- Blog Contest and Black Stork action sports are offering a chance to win $75
- Nanashi-Inc is offering $50
- Live Learn Invest and climb kilimanjaro are offering a $50 Best buy gift card
- NutsAndMilk tech news & online tips & tricks are offering $250
Becoming a Better Blogger
There’s also a couple of sites offering books for bloggers that I want to read.
- Male Wail (a blog about men’s gripes) is giving away a copy of the 4 Hour Work Week
- John Cow make money online is offering Purple Cow, SEOBook, and BlogMastermind
There’s also a contests for professional logo design
It’s crazy how this idea of promoting your blog via holding a contest has taken off like hot cakes. It makes me a little sad though that it seems like some people are losing their focus and writing/participating in contests all the time instead of writing blog posts that share information, help people, or at the very least entertain.
And on a slightly different note, someone is finally doing one of these contests for a real cause instead of personal gain:
Ultra-runner Tim Borland is running 63 marathons in 63 days in order to raise funds and awareness for the A-T Children’s Project in their quest for a cure or life-improving therapies for ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T). A-T is a rare, neurodegenerative disease that affects children, giving them the combined symptoms of cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and cancer. Children with A-T — born seemingly healthy — are usually dependent upon wheelchairs by the age of 10 and often do not survive their teens.
To run with Tim, join a tailgate party, or make a donation, please visit the A-T CureTour website. There, you can also view the daily video blog produced by filmmakers who are making an independent documentary on the A-T CureTour and enter a contest to Win a Nintendo Wii.
Hard not to participate for something like that.
Have you ever wanted to send a gift certificate to someone anonymously? One of the problem with electronic transactions is that quite often they tell the recipient exactly who you are. This isn’t a problem when it comes to gifts for your family or friends, but it can be more tricky if you are running an online contest for your blog.
photo by lilit
There are several non-creepy reasons why you might want to send an anonymous gift certificate. Perhaps you are blogging pseudoanonymously? Or it could be that your PayPal / Amazon account is registered to an email address that you don’t want to share/publicize? There are many reasons why you might want to keep your Amazon or iTunes account information private but still send someone a gift certificate.
Use a Proxy
If you wanted to surf the web anonymously you would use a proxy that would act as a intermediate between your web browser and the web sites you are visiting. The same technique works for buying gift certificates. There is an online service called Prezzle that will let you send “wrapped” gift certificates to other people. If you use Prezzle to send someone a gift certificate, the recipient will see the sender as Prezzle instead of your real identity.
There is a small service fee for using Prezzle.
Hot Tip: Make sure the gift certificate matches the country of the person receiving it! Often companies like Amazon and iTunes won’t let them transfer the gift certificate to the store for their country.
I started listening to MP3s around 9 years ago, and bought my last CD around 5 years ago. Digital music has become a way of life for me (as it is for most people), to the point where I have around way too many devices for playing MP3s: computer, stereo system, DVD player, game console, cell phone, car and dedicated MP3 players like an iPod.
Yet I’d be the first to tell you that digital music on demand over the Internet is so much more convenient then maintaining, sorting and backing up a large digital music library. Especially when web sites like Last.fm give you great artist discovery based on what you’ve already been listening to.
Another great way to discover new music is by seeing what your friends are listening to. People often using MP3 playing software to automatically update their blog with what they are listening to. Livejournal goes so far as to add a “listening to” field to every blog post. But blogs are so 2001, I’m going to show you how to update your Facebook profile with what you’ve been listening to on your iPod, using last.fm as the middle man.
I’ve been using this technique for a month now and my friends can see what I’m listening to, top tracks of the week, top artists… and best of all with one click they can either play the song or find out more information about the artist. The extra bonus points come from Last.FM getting better and better at discovering music I’ve never heard of yet instantly love.
What You Are Going to Need
- a Windows PC 
- an iPod
- iTunes software
- Facebook account
- last.fm account
- people who want to read your Facebook profile to see how much you rock (and roll) 
A few assumptions: these are general directions, and not a step-by-step walkthrough. I’m going to show you the theory, and point you to where to get better information.
 The theory still works even if you use players other than iPods, or if you are running on Linux or a Mac. You can sync pretty much anything to last.fm, which means that you can sync it to Facebook. See more info on what last.fm supports here.
 This is, surprisingly, the hardest part.
The Easy Part – Synching Last.fm to Facebook
Thanks to those fancy new Facebook applications every one is playing with (have you given up on Super Poke and Free Gifts yet?), there are several ways to update Facebook with your recently played tracks on last.fm:
- The official Facebook app by last.fm
- Pro: people can click on the play icon to listen to the music on your profile.
- Con: They have to click on the app to see your recent updates. They can see your last.fm username.
- Unofficial last.fm apps for Facebook
- Currently there are four apps other than the official one.
- Inside Facebook gives a short review of each.
- Last.fm Plus by Paul Wells This is what I use — highly recommended
- Pro: *Much* simpler and less cluttered than the official plugin, not Flash-based. Can hide your last.fm username.
- Con: People have to leave your profile page to play the music.
I recommend Last.fm Plus over the official application. This is what it looks like. The play button will play the song/artist while clicking on the name will bring them to a biography of the artist with options to play samples, download MP3s, watch videos, buy albums or listen to similar artists. It’ll also show you information like what the most popular song by that artist is.
Here’s what the linked page looks like for Hot Chip.
Hot Tip: When installing Facebook applications, uncheck the “Publish stories in my News Feeds and Mini-feeds” so that you don’t spam the crap out of your friends. Find more information about Facebook application privacy settings here.
(photo by dan morris)
The Less Easy Part – Synching Your iPod to Last.fm
There are several ways of synching your iPod to last.fm
- The official last.fm client (they finally added support!)
- Pro: Part of the official client, less likely to break when iTunes updates
- Con: Only works if you have your iPod set to automatically sync to iTunes
- iSproggler (Windows) or iScrobbler (Mac) This is what I use — highly recommended
- Pro: Supports manually synched iPods.
- Con: Have to choose the “Update iPod” option whenever you want to update. Can give a “script is using iTunes” warning when quitting iTunes.
- Yamipod software for Windows, Mac or Linux (iTunes replacement)
- Pro: You can copy it directly on you iPod so that you’ll always have it with you. Can be used to copy songs back to PC.
- Con: You have to run Yamipod *before* running iTunes or any other manager in order for sync to work. The forums usually have many support threads about getting Yamipod to work with last.fm. Have to manually click the send button.
- Amarok software for Linux/Unix (iTunes replacement)
- Pro: Also supports more devices than just the iPod (iRiver, Zen, others)
- Con: No Mac/Windows support, so I didn’t try it
- Uber geek: script for bridging your iPod to last.fm
- Con: Looks like it is the least supported of all of these methods.
As you can see, there are too many choices. If you have your iPod set up to automatically sync to iTunes, then use the official last.fm client. I’ve settled on using iSproggler since I find it’s more reliable than YamiPod.
Updating your Facebook playlist in 3 Easy Steps
The one time setup steps are
- setting up your Last.FM account,
- installing LastFM Plus on your Facebook profile and
- installing iSproggler on your computer (and configuring it with your Last.FM user account)
After that the sync process is
- Open iTunes
- Open iSproggler (if not configured to open automatically with iTunes)
- Connect your iPod
- Click on the Update iPod button in iSproggler
- That’s it
This works great, and the playlist charts Last.FM Plus generates are above and beyond anything else I’ve seen in other Facebook music apps. I’ve been using it reliably for over a month now, and I highly recommend this technique to anyone with a Facebook account and an iPod.
There’s an interesting prediction that 2006 is the year that the iPod will die. I have a Nokia 6682 (2005 release, review starts here) with half a gig of memory. While I have used it for listening to music, it hasn’t come close to replacing my 4th generation 40 GB iPod.
Here are the reasons:
- Cellphone music transfers use USB 1.1, so take an unbearably long time.
- I don’t have an MMC card reader on my “MP3” computer.
- The Nokia MP3 player chokes on a lot of MP3 files (SymbianOggPlay fixes this)
- I may always have my phone on me, but I don’t always have my ear-buds with me, and old ladies throw loose change and lint-covered hard candies at me if I try to use the loudspeaker.
We’re still in an age where the best convergent device is a cellphone, a Nano, and a digital camera tied together with a piece of duct-tape.
After the break, why I think the iPod will die.
Because I just know I’m going to lose the instructions.
|Powered on and connected||Powered on and NOT connected||Low Battery||Charging|
|Headphones||blinks blue||fast, blinks blue||fast, blinks red||solid orange|
|Wireless Adapter||solid blue||solid red||fast, blinks red||solid orange|
This is driving me nuts. What I’m looking for should be too hard to find, but for some reason I can’t get my hands on it.
There are two things I want:
First: An application for S60/Symbian/J2ME phones that can read web pages or RSS feeds OFFLINE. I live in a draconian part of the world that does not offer flat rate data plans for anything ressembling a reasonable plan.
For some reason when I try to use Opera or the built in phone browser it always makes the assumption that I want to surf using GRPS. A perfectly valid assumption if I did not live in a Syberian gulag (aka Ottawa).
Second: I want a PC application that will automatically synchronize specified files with my phone when I hook it up to my PC. This isn’t really a big deal, I could hack together a script to do it in minutes, but if there is something out there that does this already then I want to know about it.
After the break, my results with various solutions.
The Holy Grail of Synchronization: combining Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, Gmail, iPod, and mobile phone
The Holy Grail of Synchronization
Last updated: 2006/09/19
This is a guide for synchronizing Contacts (address book) and Calendars (schedule) across multiple computers and gadgets.
- synchronization – making the information the same on two different applications
- WAP/GPRS – wireless Internet access for mobile phones
- SyncML – a synchronization protocol
This is the setup I am trying to sync:
- Microsoft Outlook at work for professional scheduling
- Google Calendar for personal scheduling
- Gmail for email addresses
- Microsoft Outlook at home for contacts
- Nokia 6682 for access to contacts/calendar on the go (or any mobile phone that has software to synchronize with Microsoft Outlook, ie: all of them)
- iPod for access to contacts/calendar on the go
ScheduleWorld wasn’t something I used before I tried to do this, but it is the glue that holds it all together.
Here is a beautiful drawing of The Plan. It was made with Gliffy, a web-based Visio clone.
UPDATE 2007/04/17: M3Solutions have put together a last.fm python app for SymbianS60 phones
What would I do if I had a flat data rate cost on my new EDGE smartphone? I’d use a version of last.fm/pandora for my mobile phone. This is how mobile phones could use the fact that they are internet enabled with equivalent speeds to some broadband networks to compete with proper MP3 players and satellite radio.
Auto-discovery of music you like based on OTHER music you’ve liked is big/will be big.
In an ideal world the apps would use the existing last.fm/pandora servers and have the same features of the Windows application. You would be able to buy/download tracks to your phone, and it would make money off of these music sales. This would also get around not being able to use last.fm/pandora in corporate settings.
The hole in one would be negotiating a contract to develop this for last.fm or pandora as this could be a huge, huge market. But if that didn’t work out, developing competing software for the wireless market could still be a coup d’etat (but would require more work developing contacts with the music market).
Music companies sell more music. Phone companies sell more smart phones. Wireless providers get more usage of those data networks they shelled out so much cash for (which will reduce costs over all, get more people into using their phone for data, etc). Mobile has a killer app to compete with the MP3 player / satellite radio markets. We take a chunk of the change along the way.
This isn’t a totally new idea. It came to me fully formed, but I can see that other people are having it:
It’s always a good sign that a lot of people are having the same idea at the same time because that is a clear indication that this is something the market can and will support.