Archive for May, 2008

Napster’s new MP3 store

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Yesterday Napster began selling high-quality, DRM-free MP3s. This puts it in direct competition with Amazon MP3, and to a lesser extent with iTunes (particularly iTunes Plus). I have spent some time playing with it to see how well it works compared to its major competitors.

As one would expect, the songs are available as DRM-free MP3s, encoded at a constant 256 kbps (at least the ones I’ve purchased so far). Pricing appears to be 99 cents per track. Album prices are similar to what they are on Amazon or iTunes. Annoyingly, the prices are not visible unless you hover your mouse over the buy button.

Thanks to Napster’s several-years-old business of renting music, its MP3 store seems to have the largest catalog of songs available. Certainly, I’ve been able to find a number of songs that Amazon doesn’t have. Unfortunately, for the same reason the store also lists lots of tracks which aren’t for sale (although you can listen to the previews). Subscribers to the rental store can listen to the entire song before buying, instead of just the usual 30-second preview.

Searching and buying music is no different from any other music store, although the search bar doesn’t remember previous searches. Napster made the bizarre choice though of labeling the buy button “MP3″. The preview button has the somewhat more obvious label “:30″. When you click the buy button, a confirmation dialog box pops up, which changes to an option to download now or go to your purchase history if you confirm the purchase. Depending on your browser settings, when the song starts to download there may be an option to open it in the jukebox program of your choice.

[Note: some of the above information only applies to using the store through a web browser.]

Now for the bad news. Napster’s MP3 store only works with Firefox on Macs, and Firefox, IE, and Napster’s own application on PCs. It failed to load in Safari when I tried spoofing the user agent, so it apparently relies on some nonstandard coding that only the listed browsers support. I find this to be rather annoying, as I use Safari for almost all my web browsing, keeping Firefox around only as a backup. Worse than that, though, is that the store is based on Flash. It runs noticeably slower than Amazon or iTunes, and is often a bit wonky.

I also pulled out my old PC craptop to see how the store worked with the Napster application. It seemed to be faster, and the search bar remembers previous searches, but it still acted wonky at times. Purchased tracks download automatically into your Napster music library.

My final verdict: Unless you’re already using Napster (in which case the integration with your existing music library makes it more convenient), only visit its store if you aren’t able to find a song on Amazon MP3 or iTunes Plus. Otherwise it’s not worth the hassle.

A little of this, a little of that

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

I finally did some housekeeping on the site.  I fixed, deleted, and added a lot of links to other sites, mainly on the Links page.  I also added a page describing what the Bathroom Server was.  Alas, I don’t have a screenshot of it.

A lot of stuff has happened in the last week. Last weekend was the Boston Trolley Meet. Excellent place to find stuff relating to trolleys. I bought a t-shirt with some Boston PCCs on it, two books on the history of the Commuter Rail here in Boston, and a replacement for my oldest book on Boston transit. (I did not treat my original copy very well when I was a little kid. It’s bound with masking tape and is missing several pages.) I also helped out as a door guard for a few hours.

Also last weekend was the first Level 1 training class at Seashore Trolley Museum. For me it was just a refresher, since I went through the training last year as well, but since I didn’t get around to qualifying I have to retake everything. Two other people (my friend Bernie and another guy) are in the same boat (or should that be trolley car?). Fortunately, it sounds like those of us who are redoing everything will be able to go right into the pilot program after we finish the classroom work. There’s a lot more people in the class this year, so we got less road time. On the other hand, we did get to use SEPTA PCC #2709, which even experienced operators rarely get to use.

Last week I started working part time for the Central Transportation Planning Staff, which is the agency that collects all sorts of ridership data for the various state transportation agencies. I spent the first few days doing ridership surveys on some of the trolley lines. This week I’m mostly doing passenger counts.