Thursday, April 24, 2008

Le Soixante et Un

When people ask me where I find out about new music, I've always referred them to "XMU", the unsigned/indie channel on XM satellite radio.

I think I'm going to have to change my standard response. A couple of ex-Electronic Arts guys have created TheSixtyOne, an odd but well-conceived (and, more importantly, free) online music site. Artists upload their songs, and listeners can rate them by "bumping" songs that they enjoy. Higher-ranked songs make it onto the "Playlist of Democracy", where they get exposure to thousands of new listeners.

Internet music sites for unknown artists are nothing new or special, so here’s the hook: Listeners can gain experience and level up. You can earn points by listening to new and underrated music in "The Rack", and then spend those points to bump songs. From then on, you’ll get points every time someone else bumps the same song. The less total bumps a song has, the more it costs to bump it, so there is a bit of risk involved. However, if you get in early on a popular song, you can make a ton of points from your initial investment.

As you gain points, you advance to the next level, which gives you the ability to bump multiple times per song. Eventually, higher levels will give you other perks (built-in games and such), but the site is still in beta testing, so a lot of the upcoming features are still on the drawing board.

Since all songs are artist-uploaded, and since anyone can make an artist account, you do get a fair mix of crap. However, there’s a decent number of underground and indie bands that have taken up residence on the site – I’ve already heard My Morning Jacket and The Good Wolves on the site, two bands that are fairly popular on the college music scene. Fortunately, the "Never play this song again" button is always within easy reach, so you can keep the "badly-played guitar recorded in the bathroom" listening to a minimum.

I’ve already discovered quite a few artists through the site that I’ll probably start following. A new favorite is The Callen Sisters, whose hauntingly beautiful album I’m probably going to have to pick up very soon. Most artists on the site have links to their songs on the Amazon Music Store (DRM-free MP3’s – hooray!).

I definitely recommend TheSixtyOne to anyone who likes checking out new music. Oh, and did I mention that another good way to get points is through new listener referrals? When you sign up, be sure to put "WhiteHowler" in the referral box. I’ll try to throw back some of those extra points by bumping your favorite songs.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Or, as I call it, Beardodging

I was bit by the Geocaching bug again over the weekend, so we went out and hunted for a few caches that were close to home.

What follows is my log of the first "find" of the day:

Vo0 and I found this one today. There were a few people out fishing, but we decided to search it out anyway. After several minutes of looking, we were coming up empty, despite knowing pretty much where it had to be hiding.

As I started to dig through my pockets for the printout to decode the hint, one of the fishermen walked over and asked "What are you looking for?"

I froze. "Uh, well, see, there should be this..." I pointed feebly at my Geocache printout. "It's a container with a log that we're going to sign, and..."

"Oh, so it's like a scavenger hunt?"

Eureka! "Er, ye- I mean..."

"With your GPS there?"

"Yes, that!", I cried.

The fisherman thought for a second and then pointed at a guardrail. "Well, it's probably stuck under there." Within seconds, he had spotted the cache that we'd been blindly overlooking.

What a humbling experience -- beaten to the cache we were hunting by a complete stranger who had no clue what we were doing (I swear, we looked in that exact spot!). Fortunately, the fisherman turned out to be very nice. We explained Geocaching, and he thought it was a very cool idea. More importantly, he promised not to disturb the cache.

We thanked him, signed the log, replaced the cache, and slunk back to the car with our tails between our legs. It was still a fun hunt, if not quite what we were expecting.

The other cache we found was housed in an old Millennium Falcon action figure case. It's part of a series of Star Wars-themed caches located along the highway, so I think we're going to have to seek out the others soon.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

This blog post could save your life someday

I usually hate stupid Internet quizzes, but I feel that this is vital information for any red-blooded American (and some Canadians -- Quebecers need not apply).

How many five-year-olds could you beat up?


Respectable, huh? Complete ruthlessness plus a bit of martial arts training equals the ability to take out a small classroom. Rock.

Ron and Fez had an in-depth discussion of this very topic on their XM show a while back, going so far as to bring in a professional martial arts trainer to get his analysis. You can check out a recording the bit here. It's one of the funner bits in the history of radio.