Monday, August 17, 2009

Spotify: All music, all the time. (intermediate)

The fact that I'm updating this blog for the first time during my summer holidays to tell you about this program should let you know how much I like it.

In short:


  • free music player.

  • can play (almost) any song instantly.
  • playlists you create are assessible from any computer with Spotify, once you log in.

  • playlists can be collaborative (great for parties!).

  • very easy to use.


  • currently not legitimately available in North America...

  • streaming music all the time will eat up your bandwidth, which is about as expensive as the Iraq war once you exceed your monthly limit.

In Long:

Spotify is one of the best things to happen to media sharing since youtube. OK, that might be a bit of an exageration, but its certainly a program that you will be hearing a lot about, if you're a music fan.

Basically, Spotify lets you play any song you can think of as fast as you can type it in the search bar and hit "enter". Similar to the itunes store, when you search for a song/artist/album/etc, a list of matches will show up, showing their complete info, as well as that song's popularity. The big difference here is that with itunes, double-clicking one of these files will give you a free preview for roughly 20 seconds, after its taken 5 seconds or so to load that sample. With Spotify, however, the song starts immediately, and you listen to the whole thing, with better sound quality than probably most of the music files on your computer. From there, you can do all of the things you'd expect to do with songs that are downloaded on your computer, even though these are technically just streaming, and not on your harddrive. Most importantly, you can make playlists.

Here's why you should be excited about these playlists:

  1. It's a good way to access artists/albums/whatever that you listen to a lot quickly. For example, lately I've been pretty in to K-os, so I initially did a search for K-os, and then I made a K-os playlist that has about 6 albums worth of their stuff that in the future I can play with one click.

  2. Playlists are collaborative. That means, you can have as many people working on a single playlist as you like, providing they all have Spotify.
  3. Playlists are sharable. If you make a playlist that you think is the rockin'-est thing since sliced bread, you can share it with the world. This also means there are a whole bunch of other people creating and sharing playlsits that you can grab from here.

Now here's the rub: Spotify isn't exactly available in North America yet, BUT, if you are filled with a strange desire to Google "how to use spotify in canada", it would be rude of me to tell you not to do that...just sayin...and if you did that, you might even find out that its really easy.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Healthy Alternatives: Music Players (intermediate-advanced)

After my earlier post about Windows Media Player 12, one reader said to me, “What’s a good lightweight music player that doesn’t have a bunch of fancy stuff I don’t need, like visualizations, album art, music stores, etc?”

Later that day, someone else said to me, “Windows Media Player is ok I guess, but it would be nice if it could actually find lyrics for you.”

Two media questions in one day? Sounds like it’s time for a healthy alternative.

In fact, there is one program that is the answer for both of these readers. Foobar2000 is by far the most customizable music player available for windows. This allows it to be whatever the user wants: from a lightweight player without a lot of bells and whistles, to a full featured music accessibility center. Be warned, however, that this also makes Foobar2000 sort of a pain to set up if you want a lot of different features.


When you first download Foobar2000 and load in your music library, you’ll probably be a little underwhelmed by its sparse interface and lack of organization. That’s because the program comes with almost no features beyond listing all of your music files, and being able to play them. To get more out of Foobar2000, you have to download plug-ins of features you want. (plug-ins are like little pieces of program that “plug in” to a bigger program to add features)

I’ll guide you through how I have my Foobar2000 set up so you can get an idea of adding plug-ins to customize your experience with the program:

1) The first thing I wanted was to have my music organized in a columns-type interface that lists songs by artist, album, song title, etc. This “columns” type of interface should seem familiar, from programs like iTunes and Windows Media Player. The plug-in for this is called ColumnsUI, which can be downloaded here. After installing that, it asks you a few simple questions about how you want your music organized, and what information you want displayed.

Note that for the first reader mentioned above, this is probably exactly what he was looking for, and his setup is finished.

2) I’m a big fan of album art, and almost all of my music already has album art with it, so I just used the album art panel that comes as a part of ColumnsUI. However, there are a ton to choose from, some of which will automatically track down and display album art of songs that you don’t have the art for already. You can search for these on Google (something like, “Foobar2000 album art plug-in” without the quotes would probably work), or you can browse the plug-ins on foobar2000’s website to see if there’s something there that tickles your fancy.

3) I like knowing what’s playing when a song starts, so I use a plug-in called Pretty Popup, which puts a little pop-up in the bottom-right of my screen telling me the song info. when a song starts.


PrettyPopup can be downloaded here.

4) Finally, I wanted to be able to quickly access lyrics and guitar tabs for a song to make it really easy to learn the song quickly. For lyrics, I downloaded a panel plug-in called Lyric Show Panel, which you can grab here. Note: on the website, the plug-in file is actually called foo_uie_lyrics. For guitar tabs, I downloaded a plug-in called Run Service, that lets you quickly run internet and explorer services from a file. So, for example, you can quickly search google for artist or album or, in my case, for the guitar tab:


I had to set up the guitar tab service in preferences myself after installing Run Service, but that’s pretty straight forward. You can grab Run Service here.

That’s it for my setup. Bear in mind that mine may not look too fancy, but you can make Foobar2000 look really amazing, since you can customize everything. This is just something I threw together in a couple hours, and it only took that long because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Get’r Done with Digsby

Chances are, you have more than one email account that you check regularly, or you’ve been wanting to make a new account, but cant be bothered with the hassle of checking multiple accounts. If you’re like me, you also have a few social networks you check regularly, such as Facebook or Twitter, and you also do a bit of instant messaging. If so, you’ll definitely want to check out a program called Digsby. Basically, it takes all of that and then some, and rolls it all up in to a Window Live Messenger-esque program. It does way too much for me to do it justice here, but hit the link and check it out. You’ll be hooked. (its almost worth having just for the “seeing who emails are from without actually opening your web browser” feature)


Monday, March 30, 2009

Healthy Alternatives: Quick Launch Edition (beginner)

Quick launch buttons are those tiny buttons on the left of your taskbar that you use for quickly launching (makes sense, right?) programs you commonly use. Probably, you never really found them that annoying, but there’s also a part of you that kind of wishes for Mac OSX’s shiny dock instead. Don’t worry, I can help.

How MS dropped the ball:
They were on the right track with this since day 1, but never really developed quick launch further, to make it into a noteworthy productivity tool.


You might say, "well...its launching programs. How could you possibly make that a noteworthy event?" Enter Mac OSX featuring the application dock. Exact same thing, a whole lot prettier. The main difference is usability. Clicking on dock icons is a lot more satisfying than quick launch icons because they’re so much bigger. It's a subtle difference that managed to differentiate apple OSX enough to call it a "new" feature, that, in all honesty, is a lot better.


How to compensate for their failure:
ObjectDock is a lot like the Mac dock, but for windows.


It is totally skinnable, so you can make it look pretty much however you want.

If you’re interested in having larger Quick Launch icons without installing a fancy dock, you can always just right click the Quick Launch bar, and go to View>Use Large Icons.

Healthy Alternatives: Gadget Edition (beginner)

With the release of Microsoft Vista, gadgets were introduced for the first time as part of a kernel windows OS.

How MS dropped the ball: not actually making any useful gadgets. Take for example the calendar gadget. Logically, you would think that this would sync with Windows Calendar, displaying upcoming events and tasks.


Nope. Just gonna tell you the date really big. Another prime example is the Windows Media Player Sidebar gadget. They advertised one that looks great, and very useful. Turns out its just a Photoshop mockup....not an actual gadget you can use. its like MS thinks its some kind of kinky tease, to promise useful things then be like "not! HA!". Makes me feel like their bitch.

How to compensate for their failure:
Yahoo Widgets is a great alternative with a lot more widgets to choose from.

I’m especially a fan of the “daily planner” widget, that can show you a whole month or more at a time of upcoming events that you can colorize by category. You can also sync it with Google Calendar, if you need your calendar online.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Comment System

I’ve been told there is some confusion about how to leave a comment. If you don’t see a comment box below the post you want to comment on, click on the title of the post, and then check again. You should be good to go.

Also, you don’t need to make an account to leave a comment.

Using iGoogle to follow this blog, and other (less awesome) news feeds (beginner)

For those of you who still think that a homepage is just the first page in front of you when you open your web browser, I’ve got some great news for you. Your homepage can become a broad, informative, interesting, time absorbing creature in no time at all.

Enter iGoogle: RSS Reader extraordinaire. Because this is a blog for people who don’t computer good, I’m going to assume you don’t know what RSS is. Basically, most sites that have regularly updated info on them will provide “RSS feeds” that can be added to pages like iGoogle. It puts a little box on your page with the latest headlines on it that you can then follow to the story. So basically, if you can imagine a page covered in RSS feeds, with the top headlines from all your favourite websites on one page, you have iGoogle.


You have to have an iGoogle account, and then you just sign in at From there it’s pretty straight forward to add Tabs for different categories of websites you like, change themes, add stuff, and a whole lot more.

Once that’s set up, you can add stuff on the fly. Say, for example, you want to add this blog to your RSS feeds on your iGoogle page. If you’re using Firefox, take a look on the right side of the address bar for this:


You probably don’t have the folder icon, (which is part of a sweet program i’ll be talking about another time), but you will see the orange RSS button. Click that, and you’re pretty much good to go.

If, for some filthy reason, you’re still using Internet Explorer, you can still do this. You want to look for the same button to the right of your tabs, below the address bar:


At this point, the process for either browser is about the same.

iGoogle is the first step to getting more of the news you want, when really all you wanted to do was check your email. Use this power wisely.

If you’re already familiar with iGoogle and have something to add, or if you have any questions, leave a comment!

Windows Media Player 12

You know what I hate? The first 6 seconds of every song on my computer. I start listening, and I’m like, “ugh…just get to the point, song! I don’t care for your logical musical progression.”

Fortunately, Microsoft has heard my cries, and released Windows Media Player 12: the first music player to permanently remove the first few seconds of every song in your media library that gets played. Sweet!

My guess is that this new beta has some trouble with “meta data,” the part of the audio file that contains all that fun stuff like artist info, album, rating, etc. An alternative hypothesis is that WMP12 cant afford to play a full audio file anymore because of the regression. Or 9/11.