fri, 04-aug-2006, 17:53

It's smart to be thoughtful when writing, carefully choosing your words, crafting perfect sentences, reading and re-reading to make sure you haven't written anything stupid. Did I use the same adjective twice? Am I too tentative with my words? Is it good, or worth anyone's time to read it? Especially when your words are out there on The Internets, carried by those imaginary trucks, err., tubes.

I've been thinking about this a lot, as I watch the date on my last post to this blog disappear into the distant past. May 21st? Why haven't I written anything since then? Is there really that little going on in my life?

I've been waiting for the perfect posting. I've been messing around with graphviz, which will draw directed and undirected graphs (like in my Magnetic Fields Similarity diagram post), and have even written a Python script to automatically generate them for a particular artist. It's awesome. But it's not perfect yet, so I haven't posted, waiting until I've got it down.

In the interim I've gone dip netting (9 red salmon, 1 king, plenty of food for me and heads for the dogs), broke one of my ribs, got snowed on in June during the Monahan Breeding Bird Survey, cut and chopped more than a cord of wood, and finished hanging drywall on the inside of the watershed (not in that order).

And I've downloaded and enjoyed a lot of great music. Right now I'm really enjoying Alligator by The National. I had downloaded Mr. November (track 13) back when I first subscribed to eMusic, but didn't get any other tracks. I finally got the rest today, and it's been on repeat (with the occasional Tokyo Police Club listen, which I also got today) since then. I've got it on the stereo now (AirTunes rocks. . .) and it sounds even better filling a room than boucing around my head via headphones.

In my mind, it fits into a sonic class with Spoon, Interpol and Bloc Party, but I don't know how much of that would bear out in a similarity diagram or in a critical analysis by someone who actually knows something about music. Anyway, the band is tight, and I dig it.

Other things that I've really enjoyed since the last time I wrote are The Fiery Furnaces (can't wait for Matthew Friedberger's solo albums on Tuesday), Girl Talk, The Futureheads and Art Brut. Reading the blogs on the Pitchfork Festival really made me wish I'd taken a trip to Chicago to visit family and attend. Sounded like a blast.

So I started this post off talking about my reticence (I had to look that up to figure out the spelling) about just posting whatever, whenever. Well, here goes. Whatever.

But check out Alligator. It's good stuffs.

tags: music  writing 
sun, 21-may-2006, 15:02

I've been listening to a lot of The Magnetic Fields recently and decided to see what sort of data I could collect from last.fm about similar artists. I started on the similarity page for The Magnetic Fields, and wrote down the first two artists. Then I went to each of those artists similarity pages and did the same thing, producing a tree of artists that are similar to one another. The tree of highest similarity led from The Magnetic Fields to Belle & Sebastian to The Arcade Fire, and finally to Bloc Party, which led back to The Arcade Fire. Including the second most similar artists yielded a total of thirteen artists before all the links led to artists I already listed.

Here's what the similarity diagram looks like (click on the diagram for a larger version).

the magnetic fields similarity tree

Artists in black are those that were directly connected to The Magnetic Fields or related artists during my initial search, the dark blue arrows are links between the most similar artists and the lighter blue arrows are the number two links. The numbers near the artist boxes are the number of artists that point to them.

After I made the original diagram, I wanted to see where some of my other artists that I thought might fit into the diagram. I added Of Montreal, Architecture in Helsinki, The New Pornographers, and Spoon, again, looking for the top two most popular artists for the new groups. I was certainly right that these artists are similar, although none of them were directly connected to The Magnetic Fields. Of Montreal is only two links away (Of Montreal and The Magnetic Fields both point to Neutral Milk Hotel), and the others I added are three links away.

I think it would be really interesting to figure out some way to generate these sorts of diagrams automatically (since the connections will change as the listening habits of last.fm submitters change), and to add more levels. I used Metapost to build the diagram, so the diagrams could be built programmatically, but it would take some work to read and follow the appropriate links from the last.fm web site.

tags: music 
wed, 17-may-2006, 19:53

I had the pleasure of living in Portland for a year in the early 90's, when the alternative music scene was focused on the Northwest and there was good live music playing all the time in local bars and music halls. Most weekend nights were spent at Satyricon or La Luna listening to local and up and coming acts like Everclear, Heatmiser, Hazel, Pond and many others. Since moving to Alaska, it's been a lot harder to keep track of new music and I was mostly stuck with newer releases of the artists I was already familiar with.

iTunes has been a good way to discover new artists and download songs, but I think eMusic and last.fm are even better. eMusic focuses on independent labels and is a subscription service, which means individual tracks are inexpensive enough that I've been downloading entire albums rather than just buying the "best of" tracks from iTunes. Downloads are unprotected MP3 files, encoded at 192 kbps so they're of higher quality than iTunes downloads, and you don't have to burn and rip purchased files to do what you want with them (like convert them to a truly free audio codec like OGG, for example).

last.fm is a free service that keeps track of what music you're listening to (there are plug-ins for most music players, including iTunes), and recommends other artists that other people with similar tastes listen to. What's different than the "people who bought X also bought Y" sort of connections (although it does this too) is that it has a media player (open source!) that plays full length tracks of the music it thinks you will like. This is much better than trying to decide if you like a new artist by listening to a 30-second sample on iTunes or eMusic. And the data is freely available through a well specified web API. You can see what music I'm listening to right now by looking at the 'music' section on the right sidebar of this page.

So now I've discovered a whole range of new artists that I never would have heard without these services. No thanks to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), their old-style business model, and strongarm tactics, I'm finding and funding the artists I want to listen to.

tags: music 
mon, 01-may-2006, 17:08

Last week I wrote a Python script to import my Unix calendar event files into Google calendar. Today I wanted to put the 2006 Alaska Goldpanners schedule into my Google calendar. I suppose I could have entered all the games in manually, but instead I came up with an event file format, and a script to translate these files into iCal files that can be imported into Google calendar.

The format looks like this:

2006-Jun-14 1900 2200 Goldpanners vs. Fairbanks Adult All-Stars

with one event per line. The start and end times are in military time, and events have to start and finish on the same day.

To convert a file of these events to iCal format, download mycal_to_ics.py, and run it like this:

cat mycal | ./mycal_to_ics.py > mycal.ics

Then you can import it into your Google calendar using the Manage Calendars | Import Calendar tab. I'd recommend creating a new temporary calendar and importing into that so that if there are any errors, you won't have disturbed your existing calendars.

tags: linux  sysadmin 
sun, 30-apr-2006, 20:53

A couple months ago I got my first Apple since the Mac Classic I had in college. It's a MacBook Pro and so far I really like it. I've managed to get it to do almost everything my Linux laptop could do, but now I've got access to iTunes and Adobe's Creative Suite (although it's slow under Rosetta). If Apple would allow me to change the focus behavior, and implement the X11 cut and paste, it'd be the perfect system for a laptop.

On campus I have access to the iTunes playlists of all the people on the wireless network that are sharing their music library. And I have mine shared so other people can check out the artists I enjoy. Unfortunately, iTunes doesn't tell you what songs connected users are listening to or who is actually connected.

Since OS X is Unix, it's easy enough to examine the process tree and discover what network and filesystem connections iTunes is making. Running:

ps -axo 'pid command' | grep -v grep | grep 'iTunes ' | awk '{print $1}'

will show the process ID for iTunes. Once you have this number, you can use lsof -p [pid] to show all the files (and network connections, which are treated like files in Unix) that iTunes is using. Filtering the results by your iTunes library (grep /Users/$USER/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/) yields the songs that are being played, both locally and over the network. And searching for ESTABLISHED shows the network connections. The last part of these lines show the IP addresses of the computers connected to you, and if there are two lines with the same destination IP address, that means they are actually playing from your music library.

To automate this, I wrote a Python script watch_itunes.py that automates this process. Note that this is a command-line tool, running from a terminal window. There are Dashboard widgets that are supposed to do this, but the one I tried didn't work, perhaps because I have an Intel mac.

To use the script: ./watch_itunes.py

By default, it will examine the process tree every 15 seconds, showing what's playing and who is connected or playing from your music library. Run it with -h to see a list of command line options.

Here's what it shows right now:

192.168.1.101 is connected but not listening to music
Portastatic                Bright Ideas               05 Little Fern.m4a

192.168.1.101 is listening to music
Arcade Fire                Funeral                    09 Rebellion (Lies).m4a
Portastatic                Bright Ideas               05 Little Fern.m4a

In the first two lines, I'm listening to Little Fern, and another computer is connected to my library, but isn't playing anything. In the second set of lines, they started listeing to Rebellion (Lies). The program will keep printing lines like these until you exit the program with Control-C.

tags: music  OS X  sysadmin 

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