Wednesday, June 16, 2021

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Send them to Pete at: ReleaseNotes@
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January 26, 2007

Tech Tips

I hope it shows, but we’ve done a ton of work lately on the site. Heck, my idiot idea to write a Daily Tech Tip alone has added about an hour or so to each workday, but I do hope folks are finding them useful. Please feel free to drop me a note yea or nay—as well as to suggest potential questions or tips of your own.

One bright side of all that work is that since the articles can be found through the site search, they might serve as the start of a future knowledgebase for the site. For what it’s worth, tech support seems to have been lighter than normal lately…

Ajax and Web Interactivity

When I’m not thrashing through title report code or beveling buttons, one thing I find myself spending a lot of time on lately is learning “Web 2.0” style features, particularly a technology called “Ajax” (“Asynchronous JAvaScript and XML”). Basically, it’s a slew of techniques for making web pages more responsive, and doing the sort of interactive interfaces that once were the sole province of desktop applications.

That’s sort of the “pie in the sky” definition—the reality is that it’s slowly becoming possible (albeit with considerable amounts of work) to make web interfaces interesting. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still incredibly early days for this sort of thing, and the kind of trick that draws “ooh’s” and “ah’s” in an Ajax world, such as automatically displaying a calendar when the user enters a date field, wouldn’t get you to stifle a yawn in the desktop world. But it’s a start. A very important start.

In the coming months, expect a few new surprises on both the Human Computing and Atomic Avenue web sites. Some of it, admittedly, is for fun. Other bits, however, are things I’ve dreamed of doing for years, and which will make a fundamental difference in how easy it is to look up information and generally get things done. Unfortunately, I can’t go into the specifics just now, but I’ll leave it at this: Expect Coolness.


January 14, 2007

Pandora

I love music (and I’ve got the crates full of CDs to prove it!). One of my bigger joys in life is discovering a new band and turning my friends onto them. Once upon a time, I was even sort of a pro at this, as the New Music Director for WLHA college radio back in Madison.

However, as much as I hate to admit it, the late 90s and early 00’s were a hard time for me to find much to get excited about. The big problem (aside from a general disregard for rap and current hip hop), is that I lost my best free way to discover new acts. Back in the early 1990s, San Francisco’s KITS (“Live 105”, 105.3 FM) was easily the best radio station I’d ever heard. Not only were the jocks amazing (big props to Steve Masters, Big Rick Stuart, Roland West, and Mark Hamilton, in particular), but the station was brilliant at breaking new acts and discovering cool tracks from the U.S. and Europe--some of which drove me half mad trying to track down myself.

The station was bought out in the late 1990s and switched to “Alternative Rock” format which, unfortunately, was anything but: just the same old Stone Temple Green Day Nirvana Jam that everybody else was playing to death. The cool DJs left one by one until there was really nothing much left, and I reluctantly stopped listening. Today, the station is still on the air, but it’s a mere shadow of its old self. And yes, they’re still flogging Green Day to death.

Over the years that followed, I realized what a huge resource I’d lost, as my tastes in music slowly calcified. Sure, I managed to track down everything that Gang of Four had ever done, but where were the new bands that were going to keep me interested in music for the next decade? Without a crew of college-aged friends, a great radio station, or constant exposure to new CDs, it’s really hard to find that Next Great Band.

But lately, I gotta admit I’m feeling pretty happy about music again (and my music collection is getting a much needed infusion of fresh blood). Part of it is just changing popular taste moving back in a direction I find more musically interesting; another part is Pandora (www.pandora.com).

Pandora is a web site that allows you to enter in an artist or song that you like. Then, building on an analysis of that music’s structure, it creates a custom “radio station” which streams songs it thinks you’ll like to your computer. For instance, if I put in the band She Wants Revenge, it first plays an example song from the band and asks me if that’s the sort of thing I had in mind (some bands mix up their style quite a bit, so I’m glad it asked). Then it begins playing selections from its new band-heavy library of songs, letting me give a thumbs up or down along the way.

One of the coolest features is that you can ask it “Why did you play that?” in response to a particular song. In the case of “Come on, Feel” it by Baumer it replied “Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features basic rock song structures, electronica influences, minor key tonality, and many other similarities identified in the music genome project.” I don’t know know if I’d have characterized She Wants Revenge in exactly those words, but I have to admit, it’s probably a pretty good description now that I think about it. And though I’d never heard of them before five minutes ago, I gotta admit Baumer sounded pretty good.

Plug in a different band or song and you get an entirely different train of music, letting you suit your mood at that moment. Having pulled a few late nights listening to Pandora, I have to say that it’s an absolutely brilliant way of discovering new bands—heck, hook it up to some DRM-free music store like eMusic or AllofMP3.com with a “buy that song” button and you’d have the closest thing to crack for the music-listener set.

In any case, if you love music, you owe it to yourself to give Pandora a shot. Even if you never buy music as a result (fat chance!) I think you’ll find that the best radio station going isn’t even on the radio.

 


January 10, 2007

(Web Site) Construction Time Again

Probably nothing in this world duller than reading someone banging on about their cool new web site upgrades.

So I won’t do it to you.

Suffice to say that there are changes a’ coming (some of which are already in place), and we hope you like them. Feel free to send me comments either way.

 


January 2, 2007

New for the New Year: Daily Tech Tips

Want to learn all the inside tricks on using ComicBase from the folks who created it? Starting today, we’re letting you do just that with our new Daily Tech Tips. Check them out each week day to find out everything from hidden ComicBase features to inside information on comic publishing. (And if you have a question you’d like to see us answer, just send in your requests to )