Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And now I think Pandora is kinda stupid.

Happily Ever After: A Rock Opera
A month or so ago, my wife and I picked up a great docking station at Costco for our iPhones. For a coupla years, all music in the home had been relegated to computer, so if we were doing any cooking or house-cleaning or whatnot and we wanted some tunes, that involved firing up media jukebox, selecting a playlist, and blasting music from the office. A docking station let us quickly dial something in whilst in the kitchen or entertaining, and has proven wonderful. However, the next hurdle was what to listen to. I only have the 8GB iphone, and my carry-around playlist is pretty much my jogging playlist, and my wife can't tolerate Iron Maiden, so there is a rub.

Enter Pandora. Several folks at the office had been using Pandora for a while, but as I had a 450 GB drive on my work computer filled to the brim with music I could organize into whatever playlist I was in the mood for, I never really saw the need to check it out. However, if my wife and I are fixing dinner and we want some quick tunes that we can both agree on, I don't wnat to take the time to build a playlist. Pandora is the perfect solution - pick an artist or genre, and Pandora makes a playlist for you on the fly - quick and easy.

As I have become more accustomed to using Pandora, I have really enjoyed some of new music it has put in my playlists... it is a great discovery tool. To that end, if Pandora was hipping me to new music, I figured it might could hip other folks to my music.. and so began the exploration of how to submit to Pandora.

Originally, I thought this post would be a step by step on how to get your music on pandora. Which went like this:
On its FAQ page (http://blog.pandora.com/faq/) , Pandora gives the following instructions:

Q: How do I submit my music (or my band's music) to be considered for inclusion on Pandora?
We're very excited to announce a brand-new process to submit your music (or your band's music) to Pandora.
You'll need:
* a CD of your music
* a unique UPC code for that CD
* your CD to be available through Amazon (must be a physical CD, not just MP3s for download)
* the legal rights to your music
* MP3 files for two of the songs from your CD
* a free Pandora account, based on a valid email address, which can be associated with your music
Once you have all of these items ready to go, you can submit your music to Pandora here:

So I jumped through the hoops. I established an Amazon reseller account and mailed in my CD to inventory, even though the CD was already available digitally via Amazon. Once completed, I walked through the Pandora submission. At the end, I was told my submission was pending. I did not get an email, I just had to remember to log in to http://submitmusic.pandora.com/submit/status every once in a while.

Finally - after 2 months, I just happened to remember to log in and found that my music has been rejected. No explanation, no chance for appeal, just rejection. This is for a record that is professionally produced, with great players, that is objectively on par with anything on Pandora (http://TheRockOpera.com). Is it because I did not go through a music service like The Orchard? - which is what some services, like Slacker Radio require (http://forums.slacker.com/want-to-get-your-music-on-slacker-radio-check-here%C7%83-p224.html)

I just don't know - a quick search yields no answers, just other frustrated rejects like myself: http://www.jamesclark.com/2009/11/21/pandora-has-closed-her-box/, http://parallel-rose.livejournal.com/13820.html.

And the worst part is the lack of info. If I knew i had to get with an aggregator or work through another channel, I would check that out. But I don't know, I am just rejected. Not only is Pandora not helping me get my music discovered, it has left me rather despondent.

Rejected. Bummer.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Great Big Photo Project part II - Slides

Shannon Glee's 4th Birthday - 15
I am closing in on my first box of photos to send off - I have approximately 250 more man-hours in this than originally anticipated. But that is how it always goes. I spent a full day, and Then my sister came over and helped me for a while, and then my wife and I spent another evening grouping things together. Kathleen now has a pretty good idea of how everyone in my family looked through the years.

One of the problems has been that I didn't really stumble upon a good organization theme until late in the game. I was trying to group my mom's family, and then my dad's family, and trying to find some sort of event-type-theme: so putting all of thanksgiving together, or all of my sister's birthdays in one pile. Well, I have been trying to wrap my head around iPhoto at the same time, and in those computer machinations I realized that the only way to do it is the utterly-obvious-group-'em-by-year. Of course, this was complicated by some bad math on my part (my sister was born in 78, not 79), but I now have my stacks from 1973 onwards.

I have also been searching if there is any viable solution other than ScanMyPhotos.com(SMP) - as my mom is not real cool with the idea of sending all of these irreplaceable photos in the mail across the country. I did find a place locally, but it is $1.00/scan vs. the ScanMyPhotos.com $0.05/scan. so that kinda seals the deal.

And besides that, I got my initial batch back from ScanMyPhotos.com and they look great, and the turn around was super quick. In the big photo box was a plastic bag with 50 or so slides. I was immediately psyched, as I actually own a working slide projector - but the lamp decided to blow out around 25 seconds into the experiment. So I sent 'em off to SMP te render them into something I could work with. SMP has two levels of scannin - 2000 dpi, and 4000 dpi. As I am not really sure what is on these, I electerd to go with 2000 which was cheaper and quicker. I figure if I really need higher res, I can do another batch down the road.

The results are good. Not mind-blowingly awesome, but good. there are a coupla instances of weird color-artefacting, and some stuff is a little grainy. Of course, this may have more to do with the original source than anything. Overall, I am incredibly pleased with the price, quality, and turn-around. I know that there are a bunch more slides - particularly from my Dad's side of the family, and I hope this case study will convince my folks to let me send them off. Right now they are probably sitting above the garage and there is a slim chance they will ever be accessed in their current form, as I have dad's slide projector, and the bulb just blew out ;).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A picture postcard from 1912

I can only imagine that this is the oldest photo in this collection that I am working with on my Great Big Photo Project - a picture postcard sent within Arkansas dated August 29, 1912! There is a note with the postcard in my Grandmother's handwriting that states "Front to back - First Date,  Lee Davis, Eva Bowen, J.V. Looney (my great-grandfather), Mollie Davis (my great-grandmother), Will Bailey, Julie Bailey, Lora Davis, Lelia Davis, Lea Davis, George Looney, Elmer Davis (Eva made picture)"

So - I guess this means this documents the first date of my great-grandparents? How cool is that. I guess they really believed in the dating ladder - and starting with group dating. Clearly, as this was sent to Mollie Davis, this predates her getting married when she became Mollie Looney.

I love that the address is a simple name, city, state. Ravenden Springs was never the largest of cities, I 'spose. This would have been sent in the 'golden age of picture postcards, before WWI, and before the telephone replaced them as a quicker way to communicate.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Great Big Photo Project

Big Photo ProjectAttempting to bring order to hundreds of loose photos in genre-specific piles on my dining room table
So - I was at my parent's house for Thanksgiving this year, and I had my Mom bring out the 'great big box of photos.' This was a huge rubber-maid container that was full to the rim with family pictures - including originals from 1914 Arkansas, mingled in with wallet-sized school photos, to multiple sleeves of my sisters volleyball team and cars cars cars. You know the sports photos I am sure - shot from the bleachers with a point-and-click camera, there is no focus to the picture - just a bunch of small figures in matching uniforms doing indiscernible things on a gymnasium floor. Each shot is pretty much the same. Each roll generally has 1 redeemable picture - a group shot at the close of the game - where you can actually tell who is who. The others are interchange-ably bad, and no one really needs to ever see them again. Oh, and there are usually double-prints.

Jon Freed, Jane Ann, Glee WrightA great shot of my Dad and Aunt Jane with my Grandmother.
As to the cars, My dad and I went to the 24 hours of Daytona for several years in a row when I was growing up. this was a really wonderful event that involved us camping in the infield, and roaming about the entire racetrack for the entire 24 hrs of the race. To prove I was there, I would lug my point-an-shoot camera around with me, trying to capture the moment a Porsche 956 would belch flame when downshifting around a chicane. I would sidle up to some professional toting a huge rig with a 3 foot long lens, and try and try and duplicate his shot with a small plastic camera that had no hope of focusing on the cars moving at 150 mph. I have rolls and rolls of blurry pics from these events - with nary a worthwhile picture in the bunch.

Martha Ann Byrd Looney
My great-great-grandmother. Written on the back in my grandmother's (paternal) handwriting: "Martha Ann Byrd Looney had 16 brothers and sisters. Married James Isam Looney Sept 8, 1871. They had 10 children 1) WJ, 2) S.A., 3) M.F., 4) Manuel Dodson, 5) M.E., 6) George A., 7) Mollie, 8) John Stubblefield, 9) James Virgle (my great-grandfather), 10) J. Everett. Mar 4 1855 - Nov 17, 1942."
The good stuff is the family photos. there are some great shots of my sister and me, and a number of old pics I have never seen before. I am in the process of trying to organize it all into some sort of cohesion before I attempt to begin the digitization process.  I am looking at http://scanmyphotos.com. To scan these myself would take forever. I am hoping this will work, though it is somewhat scary sending all of these pics out to a 3rd party. To that end I am trying to identify the truly crucial one-of-a-kind pics and scanning those myself. However, to my thinking, if I don't do something to organize and digitize these pics, they are effectively lost anyway, so it is worth the risk of sending them away.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mac vs Pc key commands: The Cmd/Ctrl Issue

So - I was raised a PC guy, and have always used PCs at home and at work - primarily because Macs have always been so damn expensive. This year I bit the bullet and bought a shiny new iMac 24 to be my new primary workstation. I do like it a lot, and I can see what all the hubbub is about. However, I still like my PC, have a bunch of software for the pc,  and - though the Mac has become my primary station - I generally am running both Mac and PC at the same time. Currently I have the iMac 24 and a Dell Vostro desktop with two 17" Dell ultrasharp monitors. The monitors double as usb hubs - one attached to the mac, on to the pc.

To control the PC and Mac via one mouse keyboard combination, I use the open source Synergy (http://synergy2.sourceforge.net/) installed on both computers, with the Mac as primary. On the PC under Options>>AutoStart I have Synergy set to begin as soon as the computer starts, which means that - so long as the Mac is running and synergy is active, I can control the PC - even through the login process.

Mac Command, PC Control

Like anyone who has been at this for a while, I have a good host of keyboard commands I have become familiar with tho help get things done quicker. The fact that Mac uses Command to do most of the things you would do with Control on the PC was a great big roadblock to me at first, and is still annoying. Also, Synergy allows you to share clipboards betwixt computers, so I commonly copy a URL or small bit of text on the PC and paste in Mac. This is greatly complicated by the fact that the keyboard commands for copy and paste are different as I move from computer to computer.

BUT NO MORE. On the mac, you can switch the functionality between Command and Control by going to System Preferences>>Keyboard & Mouse>>Keyboard>>Modifier Keys. Now, this just inverts the keyboard so that moving over to the PC I now hafta use Command - the copy/paste functionality across computers is still different. Thankfully, you can open up SynergyKM and go to [pc computer name]>>Screen Options>>Modifier Keys and invert Command Control there as well.

Eureka! I am back to my familiar (and more ergonomically pleasing) Control key dominance, and functionality maps up across both computers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Love Can Build a Bridge - Halloween '09

Naomi and Wynonna
Kat and I donned petticoats, fake eyelashes, and auburn wigs to pay tribute to one of the winning-est duos in country music. I know i could have gotten a little closer to Wy if I had gone the extra mile to completely remove and then redraw my eyebrows, but I ultimately refrained from this level of commitment. At some point early in the evening we were crossing a street near five points and a fellow driving by in his truck rolled down the window to yell "Love Can Build a Bridge!"

As my purse was stocked with Alli, I didnt feel too bad about indulging in a candy bar or 3.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jon & Kat's European Vacation Video

My wife and I were afforded the luxury of time, which allowed us to take a little visit to Europe this September (Sept 4 - Sept 25, 2009). For photos, we had our iphones, and a point and shoot Nikon Coolpix which I had bought Kat for her birthday last year. I certainly would NOT recommend the Nikon to anyone who asked - the lens was pretty lame, and it has an annoying habit of focusing on the least important object in the frame - but it is what we had.

I didn't take too many generic landscape or site photos, as I know far better pictures of the Pantheon exist, taken by better photographers, with superior gear. My hope is to merge our panorama shots (which prove we were there!) with some good quality creative commons shots (flickr is chock full of these) along with the journal I kept on the trip into a Blurb coffee table book.

I was just messing about on my new imac in the interim, trying to organize the shots and video clips, getting a handle on the mac applications (I have always been a PC fellow) - and this movie just kind of came together. I used iMovie, which is fantastic and very easy to use. I listed out the events in order, and just dropped them on to the timeline. The 2 things that really helped were the theme - which automatically establishes the picturebook transitions and feel, and the Indiana Jones maps, which are quick to implement, and awesome.

The music is from Yann Tiersen's wonderful Amelie soundtrack.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

IPhone photo apps

In sorting through the pics from Kat & I's European travels, I have been more and more impressed with what you can do with the iphone camera. Here are a coupla apps I have found to be helpful.

camera bag
Kat in Rome
Rec'd to me by my cousin Scott, this is super fun - run your pics (existing camera roll, or take a new one) and simulate a collection of toy cameras with the available filters (Holga, Lomo, polaroid, etc.)  Seriously, this app is amazing! It manages to accentuate the limitations of the iphone camera in a really neat way, turning negatives into positives.

The example at left was taken with the iphone in Rome, and then put through the 'Helga' setting with the cropping turned off. That filter is what added the burning around the edges as well as the color wash out.

itunes: http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=291176178&mt


Has a few neat effects - most importantly, it turns the entire screen into the 'take a photo button' - which is key for self-photos (which I am inordinately fond of)



Really neat app that allows you to link your photos together and then create virtual environments you can scroll thru on your iphone, or save out as flat images.Campo Santa Maria, Venice
This is not a quick and simple panorama builder, as you have to invest some time into manually joining each photo seam. However, the virtual environment it allows you to create is totally worth it. Very cool!

itunes store: http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=300818496&mt=8

Monday, October 5, 2009

Animoto: Super-quick music videos and slideshows

In a moment of software serendipity, I just happened to come across the perfect tool right when I needed it. I had done a quick interim site redesign for the wonderful Lari White, and she wanted to add a kind of career-retrospective slideshow which showed a collection of photos 'through-the-years' set to a medley of songs spanning her recording career. I had put off this task to the very end of the project, as I knew it was going to consume far more time that I wanted it to - or had even budgeted for.

At about this time I stumbled across Animoto via some slideshow exploring how the youtube api is being leveraged by different new video startups. This was the perfect solution! Animoto allows you to quickly set photos, text blocks (titles, sentences, captions), and video to a soundtrack of your choosing. You just upload and order and the app does all the rest - adding in super cool transitions and effects which seem to be set to match up pretty well with the music.

You can mess about for free - I think can make a 30 second video. For a longer video that is not hi-def, you have to buy a credit, which is only $3 - certainly affordable. A more robust package that removes all Animoto branding is gonna run you $250/annually, which is still very affordable for the right business.

The Cons of Animoto
Unfortunately, if you are kind of anal about your photo/video projects like me, and really like to be able to tweak things just-so, this is not the tool. Animoto allows you to select the pics/video you want to use, order the pics, and intersperse text blocks. Text is treated as an element the same as a pic, so you cannot overlay text onto a photo or video, though you can introduce a series of shots with a text title. You have no real ability to line up the elements with the music, just order things and hope for the best.

However, the lack of fine-tuning controls can be looked at as a positive as well, as it encourages you to generate content quickly, and move along with your life. for a 'tweaker' like me, the blatant inability to tweak endlessly makes it easier to finalize your movie.

More and more, youtube is replacing MySpace as the principal destination for quick music listening and discovery. Nearly everyone has the ability to see and enjoy video nowadays, and tend to expect it. For artists, this looks to be a great way to throw your music up, paired with some nice live or publicity shots, as well as some textual information about the album, single, or directions to your website for more. For an album launch, this could be a great way to introduce the new music, and can be paired with youtube promotions for greater effect. Additionally-  for further tweaking, I suppose you could download your finished Animoto product and dump it into Imovie/Final Cut/Vegas or a similar program for more robust editing.

Animoto allows you to batch upload your photos, order them, and intersperse text blocks.

I have no affiliation to Animoto, but if you use the referral code rhpgaosm when signing up, I get some sort of credit towards future use.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cool one page site comprised of social net feeds

Ran across this simple one-page site for Demi Lovato: http://www.demilovato.com. In truth, I think this is a much too simple site for someone with multiple albums who debuted #2 on Billboard - but it is a good example of a one page site. This really just serves as a collection point for various feeds, including YouTube vids, Facebook comments, and flickr pics. all of the main media is served - and it is collected in one space via a domain name that (ideally) the artist controls. So - while not putting a huge investment in a website, she is training fans to come to her domain - and her domain places well in search engine optimization. This lays a good foundation for traffic should she create a more robust site or online campaign down the road.

Unfortunately - this is not a very good site for creating a fan relation - it looks doubtful that the artist is even aware this site exists - probably administered by a flunky within Disney somewheres - but at least the info is collected in a central locale.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Optimizing Drupal Pathauto settings for SEO and ease of use

I am building out a rather robust site in drupal, and while I have worked on several drupal sites in the last several months, I am taking a little more time with this one... trying to set myself up with a viable dev blueprint, if you will.

I have enabled pathauto to help with SEO, and now am trying to optimize the pathauto settings for each content piece. One of the site content types is a blog. Many blogs list articles by date, and I often find date incredibly relevant in my searches, so I was thinking of setting a path as site.com/blog/yyyy/mm/blog-title. In exploring the viability of that, I stumbled across this article (4 reasons to avoid using dates in urls) , and must say that I see the sense in the article. The only thing that gives me pause is that I often come across an article where a pub date is not readily apparent - and I can get pretty deep into it before I realize it was pubbed in 2005 and is not really relevant. However, that is from a reader's point of view, from a content provider's point of view, it does not benefit to add date. Best bet looks to treat blog recrds the same as news records...

As to news items, google does a pretty good job of laying it all out for on optimizing for placement in google news. The only thing that really stuck out to me was that, in including a thumbnail img with the news article, making the img a link is a detriment. The big thing for placement on google news is the 3 digit number which need be associated with the article, which can be handily added via pathauto using the [nid] token. Consequently, I have news paths set to "news/[title-raw]-[nid]" - I keep the /news/ at the top as it follows the sitemap, and the user can delete the article title from the address bar and then end up at sitename.com/news/ - which is a real page listing all news, which makes sense from a usability point of view.

The primary rule of thumb I have decided to follow is that paths should follow site map structure, such that you should be able to follow the path back up to the home page in a logical way. So, if you have www.sitename.com/news/press-releases/article-title-001, you should be able to back up at the address level so ../news/press-releases/ lists all press releases and ../news/ lists all news inclusive of press releases, and so on.