Thursday, March 29

Feeling like a Part of Something Bigger

For me, today's New York Times article on Internet music services is oddly apropos. You see, last night I went to a local meet-up for users of Pandora's personalized Internet radio, and there I was able to meet (and meekly thrust a business card at) founder Tim Westergren.

The meeting was scheduled to start at 7pm, but I showed up in the neighborhood earlier so I could park my car in an out-of-the-way spot I knew about a few blocks away. (Another striking coincidence is that the meeting was held just down the street from the best music-supply store in the city, and I needed a box of saxophone reeds anyway.) I showed up just at the same time as another Pandora listener whose name I unfortunately forget, and together we went into a room with a large number of empty chairs.

We were the first to arrive, and Tim was just nonchalantly sitting on the edge of the small stage and pushing buttons on a handheld device of some sort. I didn't look hard enough to see which device he had-- Blackberry, Treo, or Q, I couldn't care less at that point-- because I was about to meet the guy who came up with and implemented one of the best ideas at the crossroads of music and technology... the Music Genome Project.

We shook hands, and I talked with Tim for a bit while waiting for the hall to fill. Like many people have said when meeting someone they admire, "he was just a regular guy." Tim left to talk to the guy working the venue, and I sat and discussed the service with more listeners who were starting to trickle in.

I was in the second row, and I could feel the room filling fast behind me. When 7:00 rolled around, Tim got up and immediately the chatting ceased. He started by asking if everyone could hear, and he decided to turn off a noisy fan in the back rather than resorting to a microphone.

It really felt like a conversation. He told us about Pandora's history as a company, and attendees felt free to chime in with questions and comments pretty much from the get-go. We ended up talking about the future of Pandora and Web radio, requesting new features, and generally just bouncing around some ideas. The relaxed, casual atmosphere Tim obviously had worked hard to cultivate made it a really interesting, informative, and fun evening.

Somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00, he "concluded" things, basically just excusing those who had already heard what they wanted to hear. A number of people stuck around, including a group of researchers from UCSD who are working on the problem of getting a computer to analyze and classify music (Pandora employs a team of 50 musicologists to study individual songs so they can be matched with others for your custom station). I loved this part; where the conversation got really technical and I was able to geek out to my heart's content.

I managed to hang around in the venue long enough to be the last person there and talk to Tim individually once more. This is when I gave him my card, told him about my fascination with the Genome, and told him I'd love to help his company in any way I could: coming up with ideas for application of their research, testing proposed features, or possibly even (if they might have me one day) becoming one of their Analysts or even part of their Engineering staff.

When I flipped open my phone to call my wife and let her know I was heading home, its illuminated clock read nearly 10pm. Time really does fly when you're enjoying yourself.

Tuesday, March 13

Quote of the Day

Howard Nemerov: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely; and if you surrender your personal responsibility to a government which promises to take care of you, they will only take care of themselves."

Global Warming - I'll Take the High Road

"Many [scientists] appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots."

That's exactly how I feel (and, probably more importantly, that's also the opinion of my environmental-scientist wife). Global warming is certainly an issue, and it's likely that human activity has some sort of an impact on its intensity, but both alarmists like Al Gore and skeptics like S. Fred Singer are off the mark.

As Aristotle said in Ethics, true virtue is found at "the mean between extremes." That statement fits this particular debate probably more aptly than any other issue of our time.

From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype - New York Times

Friday, March 9

Apple Retail - Insanely Great Stores

If you've ever been to an Apple Store, you know that it's different than anything else out there. The one in the mall near my office seems like a cross between Brookstone and Gymboree, with an informal schoolroom in the back.

This difference has catapulted the Apple's direct-to-consumer outlets into the most profitable retail venture in the country. In terms of sales per square foot per year (the standard metric for retail success), Apple's chain of stores brings in almost twice as much as Tiffany & Co., its closest domestic competitor.

For more detail, including some quotes by Apple CEO Steve Jobs about the reason for the monumental achievement, click the link below.

Fortune - Why Apple is the best retailer in America

Thursday, March 1

Search for ET nets missing computer

Interesting news from SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence): their mass-computing project, SETI@home, helped to solve a crime.

SET@home is an attempt to get around the mass amounts of processing power it takes to analyze the data received by SETI's sensors. Instead of having an impossibly giant supercomputer to crunch the numbers, they distribute small pieces of raw data to millions of volunteers who allow their computers to participate in the analysis while their computers are on screen-saver.

Every time the computer needs a new chunk of data, it needs to access SETI's servers, and in the process of that transaction it reports its Internet address. When a computer with the SETI@home software installed was stolen, the owners were able to find it by tracking the address reported to SETI when the software asked for a new piece of data.

Details of the story are in the link below.

AP - Missing Laptop Found in ET Hunt

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by emailing the author (use the link above).

The Geek Code desperately needs updating, but in any case here's mine (as of 2010-02-28):

Version: 3.12
GIT/MU d+(-) s:+>: a C++> ULXB++++$ L+++ M++ w--() !O !V P+ E---
W+++ N o++ K? PS PE++ Y+ PGP t !5 X- R- tv+@ b++ DI++++ D--- e*++
h--- r+++ y+++ G+

If you really care about knowing what that all means, you either know the code already, or you can get it decoded for you here.