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Derek Carter’s blog » 2007» November

Archive for November, 2007

Amie Street and SellaBand reviews

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

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The last few days I’ve been checking out a pair of online music stores that specialize in indie music, Amie Street and SellaBand. Both offer music as DRM-free MP3s, and SellaBand also offers CDs.

Amie Street

I’ve spent the most time with Amie Street. It offers a sizable amount of music from various independent labels as digital downloads. Finding a particular artist is easy enough, assuming it’s there. If you’re looking for new music, you have three options. First is to browse the various Top 20 lists on the site’s homepage. Next, you can do a general search by genre. Finally, and most interestingly, the artists on the site are tagged with the names of artists they sound similar to, so you can search by known artists as well. For example, while the site doesn’t have anything by Lacuna Coil, a search for them led me to Nemesea, which I’d never heard of before but decided I liked after listening to the previews. (I ultimately downloaded their album from SellaBand, but more on that in a bit) Song previews on Amie Street are very long, from one to two minutes in length, giving you plenty of time to decide if you like the song or not.

Amie Street uses a unique pricing structure. Newly-added songs start out being free, and gradually go up in price depending on how popular they become, with a maximum price of 98 cents. From what I’ve seen, album prices are merely the sum of the prices of the individual songs. This makes it very convenient to buy one or two songs from an album and then go back to buy the rest at a later time. Buying multiple individual songs from an album is very easy, as each song has a check box. Check off the ones you want, and there’s an action in a popup menu near the top of the page to buy all selected songs. For reasons unknown, Amie Street requires you to buy credit ahead of time using a credit card or Paypal. Easy enough to do, but an unnecessary extra step. Credit is available in several amounts to fit any budget. Buying credit also buys you some recommendations (or RECs) that you can then give out to any song you’ve purchased from the site. If the song subsequently goes up in popularity (and price), you can “cash in” and get back as store credit at least half the difference between the price you purchased it at and the price it is when you cash in. So far I haven’t made any use of the REC system.

Bitrates on Amie Street vary. According to the site’s FAQ, they strive to make as much of their music as possible available in 256kbps VBR, but as many artists submit their music to the site directly, bitrates are all over the place; the handful of songs I bought range from 128kbps to 320kbps. Unfortunately, the site doesn’t list what bitrate any particular song is encoded with - you have to buy the song and download it to find out. For that reason, if high bitrates are important to you (they are to me), I recommend buying one song from an album first to check the bitrate, then buying the rest of the album. (That’s what happened regarding the Nemesea album I found. I bought the first song from Amie Street, discovered it was only 128kbps, then went looking for a site that had the album at a higher bitrate.)

Amie Street keeps track of which songs you’ve purchased on a page called My Library. Unlike Amazon.com or iTunes, this lets you re-download songs without paying for them again in the event your hard drive crashes. (There are, of course, other things you can do with this feature, but I won’t mention those) All in all, Amie Street is a pretty good site for buying indie music from.

SellaBand

SellaBand is more oriented towards getting new artists published than actually selling music. The biggest feature is that you can buy what amounts to a share in an artist. Each artist’s page has a few songs (demos, presumably) that can be streamed (but not downloaded), so you can decide if they’re worth buying into. Once 5000 shares have been sold, the site then pays to have the artist go to a studio and record an album. Besides regular editions of the album, which is sold both in CD format and 256kbps MP3, 5000 limited edition CDs are also made for the band’s shareholders (SellaBand calls them (Believers”). Believers receive the limited edition CDs for free, and can sell extra copies (if they purchased multiple shares in a band) on the site.

As mentioned before, songs can be purchased either on CD or as 256kbps MP3s. Regular CDs are $10, limited edition CDs are $15, and MP3s are 50 cents (some are also available for free). Like Amie Street, SellaBand accepts both credit cards and Paypal, however you don’t have to pre-purchase credit (although that’s an option).

The main problem with SellaBand is that currently only four bands are selling albums on the site, so it’s not a very good resource for finding new music (at least if you want to buy it immediately).

Front Row 2.0: One Step Forward, One Step Backward

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

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Last night I poked through the revamped version of Front Row that comes with Leopard. The look has been changed considerably, but in general it works the same as it did before, with two exceptions. First, Apple stopped using a random number generator to sort TV shows. Why they were using one to begin with is unknown, but its removal is much appreciated. Unfortunately, the other change was that they removed the Season submenus for TV shows where you have episodes from more than one season. Front Row now lists every episode in one menu, with the most recent at the top. So if someone had every episode of The Simpsons on their computer (I don’t, but it makes a good example) and wanted to watch the first one, that person would have to sit around for a few minutes scrolling through all 405 episodes to get to it. As you might have guessed, this is considerably slower than the simple click-click-click you would’ve done in Front Row 1.0 to watch the same episode. Time to send Apple a note.

WTF is up with AIM?

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

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The last two weeks AIM has gone to hell in a handbasket.  While private chat still works normally, group chat (aka chat rooms) has become almost unusable.  People are being locked out of group chat left and right, and for no apparent reason.  At first I thought AOL might be updating their servers one at a time, as initially it was just one person at a time being locked out of the Daria chat room I frequent.  But the last few days have seen multiple people being locked out simultaneously.  Currently it is unknown if anyone is able to access that chat room: five of us who frequent the room are all locked out, and are using IRC as I type this.

As I mentioned here, some of us who are especially computer savvy have been experimenting with other chat systems, including IRC and Jabber.  The general consensus appears to be to use IRC.  It remains to be seen if AIM will fix itself or if a full migration to IRC will be necessary to maintain chat among Daria fans.  Ironically, there’s still an old IRC channel for Daria fans that’s been running since the late 90’s.

I upgraded to Leopard

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

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Last night I upgraded my MacBook Pro to Leopard.  Installation took less than two hours and went without a hitch.  None of the problems that have been reported have shown up, even though I chose the “Upgrade” option rather than “Archive and Install” or “Erase and Install”.  Only two programs so far have died on me: Google Earth (fixed by downloading the latest version) and Photoshop Elements 2 (which will cost some money to upgrade).  There’s a few other apps which potentially might be broken, but I haven’t gotten around to checking them yet.  The app with the most changes is iChat.  The buddy list is handled differently, with offline buddies thrown into a separate category.  A nice addition is a chat room manager, which can be programmed with your favorite chat rooms.  It is currently unclear if it handles Jabber better than the previous version of iChat.  There’s also some new video chat features, but I haven’t checked those out since I never do video chats.  Unfortunately, AIM is so fucked up of late that it appears I’ll be moving a lot of my chatting over to IRC, which iChat doesn’t support.   The overall appearance of the GUI has been standardized and noticeably altered.  The old brushed metal look has disappeared in favor of the matte gray look that iTunes and some other apps have been using for a while now.  The menu bar, which has been solid white since Macintosh was first released 23 years ago, is now translucent.  How good it looks depends on how bright or dark the desktop pattern is.  It would be nice if the translucence was adjustable.  The Finder looks more like iTunes now, with the same side bar design.  It also has Cover Flow, which I regard as useless eye candy (fortunately, you don’t have to use it). The Dock has been altered as well.  The translucent background has become a plain stretching off to infinity that mirrors the icons above it.  The black triangles that indicated which apps were open have been replaced by glowing blue ovals which look like something from a movie about aliens.  Finally, there’s Stacks, which are folders placed on the Dock which spring open when you click on them, producing a curved column of files.  Most people seem to hate it, but I dunno.  It works well enough for the Downloads folder. One thing I haven’t gotten to yet is Time Machine, for backing up the hard drive.  Once I’m certain everything is good to go I’ll activate that.  Overall, Leopard is a pretty good update.

SITE UPDATE: Commuter Rail

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

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As promised, I’ve posted the revamped Commuter Rail gallery. Photos are divided by line, starting with Rockport and ending with Greenbush. Enjoy.

SITE UPDATE: Boston Engine Terminal

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

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I’ve created a new page just for Boston Engine Terminal. The first 46 images (most of the first two pages in the new gallery) are from the old commuter rail page, while the rest are new. New is relative, of course, as some of the new ones are from last fall. In the near future I will be replacing the other commuter rail page with a new one that covers everything besides BET.

I also need to get in touch with my hosting provider, as I’ve lost all FTP access to my site for the time being. I can log in, but then it hangs trying to load the directory. That means I can’t do anything with Contribute at all, and the only way to add stuff is to go through my CPanel and add each file individually.

SITE UPDATE: They’re actually getting something done at Ashmont

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

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I’ve posted a few new photos of the construction at Ashmont here (the last four photos on that page). Trackwork on the new trolley loop has finally started. None of the trolley wire has been strung yet, but the hangers are in place. Just as important, work has finally begun on the new station, with the framework for about a quarter of the new roof in place. Not much more can be built without blocking off more of the inbound platform. Best estimates are that the trolley will be running again by the end of this month.

I have begun work on redoing my Commuter Rail pages. I have a lot of new photos to add, and a lot of work to do on the galleries themselves. Since there’s so many of them, I’m going to put my Boston Engine Terminal photos into a new gallery. Among the new photos are some from the brand new Greenbush Line, which saw it’s first day of revenue service on Wednesday, October 31. I was there to ride one of the trains from South Station to Greenbush and back.