Tuesday, June 26, 2007

introducing simplify media

connect your iTunesPaul’s note: 18 months ago I started a company with some of the smartest people I know. In secret we have been working on technology to transform how digital media is used by small, trusted groups of friends and family, and today we are ready to unveil our first product and our company: Simplify Media. Obviously this is not an impartial review, but I do hope you find it to be a helpful introduction.

Simplify Media lets you access your home music over the internet and connect with friends and family, all within iTunes. Designed for the PC and the Mac, it's simple to install, safe to operate, and free of charge. There are a number of existing products that assist you with remote access to your digital content. However, Simplify Media offers several key advantages. (Learn More)

First, when you use Simplify Media shared libraries appear right within iTunes without any additional configuration. You don’t have to port-forward or set up a VPN to access music right in iTunes. Libraries appear as if they were on your local network, and you can sort, search and play. For your own account you can even access your iTunes-purchased, DRM-protected songs.

Second, Simplify Media does not require you to upload files to a website. When you connect with another user or another one of your own computers, files are available in minutes. More importantly for the privacy concerned, you have complete control over what you share and with whom. And, all computer-to-computer communication in Simplify Media is encrypted.

Third, Simplify Media is designed for small groups. Simplify Media provides a hassle-free way to view all of your music wherever you are and browse your friends’ libraries as if you were in their living room. In private testing, we have learned that this fun way to find new music and rediscover old favorites. Frankly, we have been shocked by the large percentage of our friends with ABBA albums.

You might be wondering, what does it mean to “share” music within Simplify Media. Within the small set of users you designate, “share” means stream. We are cross-format (mp3, wma, aac) as well as cross-platform (PC and Mac), but we do not transfer copies of files, let you download songs to your iPod or permit you to burn them to CDs. We want you to explore, and when you find things you want to own, we encourage you to buy them using the links we provide. That way you can continue to enjoy those songs even when your friends are offline. (FAQ)

With a name like Simplify Media, you’d expect us to be easy to install, and getting started is much faster than you would expect.

1) Download the appropriate version. Note that we are still in “beta” and do not yet support Windows Vista.
2) Create an account. This is faster than on a website as the only information we require is your screen name and password.
3) Install on a second machine and sign in with your existing account for an instant connection or invite other users.
4) Open iTunes and enjoy.

screenshot of iTunes enhanced with Simplify Media

Monday, June 25, 2007

norah jones

I just came home from the Norah Jones concert at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. I had high expectations: Norah’s laid back, sultry voice is a perfect match for a warm summer evening and the Handsome Band is a perfect match for their lead singer. But, I was blown away by how good this concert really was.

M Ward opened receiving an assist from a jeans-clad Norah for the first four songs. As they would later prove on Creepin’ In during Norah’s set (for which she changed to a very cute dress), their very different vocal styles are wonderful together. M Ward is a great young talent, and highlights from the opener included re-interpretations of Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou, Willie Nelson’s Permanently Lonely and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. M Ward’s own Eyes on the Prize fit right in.

Norah has been generous with her celebrity, lending vocal support to recordings by friends like Jessie Harris, Jim Campilongo, Jools Holland and my favorite, Richard Julian. She is also always game for side projects like: guitarist Adam Levy’s solo album; The Little Willies with Jim, Richard, bassist Lee Alexander and drummer Dan Rieser; and, El Madmo with the delightful Daru Oda. Apparently Norah can’t whistle but she loves to sing, and she showed it all night long.

Inspired by a wonderful evening of music and empowered by clips of questionable legality on YouTube, I thought I would recreate some of the magic here for you. Buy her albums, support her friends and make sure you see her next time she returns to the Mountain Winery.

Norah opened with the title track from her first album, Come Away With Me. Reworked for the 2007 tour, it featured her guitar and her smooth, effortless voice.

She followed this with Those Sweet Words, a favorite from her second album Feels Like Home.

Then, she played cuts from the newest album: Not Too Late. Released in January, I had lukewarm impressions on first listen, but I have come to appreciate its artistry more and more.

In concert, the songs sounded even better than the well-engineered album. The sound was pristine, and I enjoyed the very slow rendition of Rosie’s Lullaby. Also noteworthy: the spunky Little Room, played as a duet with the mutli-instrumental Daru. Throughout the evening Daru provided well-blended backup vocals and played base, piano, flute, harmonium and some square metal things.

Norah would play almost every song on Not Too Late. A nice example is Until the End.

However, the setlist was well-balanced. I thought that Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart (from Come Away With Me) was a standout, showcasing that bewitching voice and Lee on upright.

Another amazing moment came near the end of the show when she covered Townes Van Zandt’s For the Sake of the Song (Norah, please record this!) followed shortly by Willie Nelson’s Hands on the Wheel. Willie would have been proud.

These were hard to top but the three song encore did just that. Starting with a nice rendition of Don’t Know Why (from Come Away With Me).

shifting to a soulful What Am I to You (from Feels Like Home) and ending with Tom Waits’ Long Way Home (from Not Too Late)

Bonus links: more Norah performances you might enjoy:
That’s The Way The World Goes Round (with Richard Julian)
One Flight Down (from Come Away With Me)
Sunrise (from Feels Like Home)
Humble Me (from Feels Like Home)
Wurlitzer Prize (with Willie Nelson)
Drown in My Own Tears (a tribute to Ray Charles)
Easy as the Rain (as The Little Willies)

More bonus links: concert DVDs
Live in 2004 and Live in New Orleans

Sunday, June 17, 2007

air-conditioned golf carts

Coolwell G2 system (in blue) Thanks to the magnanimous Warren, I was in Vegas again this weekend. Warren was playing poker with the stars (Hollywood and financial) and I was golfing with friends, like me, happy to have a seat on Air Warren.

The loquacious Rick and I had a 36-hole match with Bammer and Sherri, and we started at The Badlands. The conditions Friday afternoon fit the course name perfectly. 107 degrees, 25 mph sirocco, brutal rocks blanketing all but the tiny green targets on the 7200+ yard monster, and no other golfers in sight. Fortunately, we had a powerful weapon to help us tame the beast: air-conditioned golf carts.

Developed by Coolwell, an Arizona-based company, the G2 is one of the greatest inventions of all time. The system consists of a cooler-sized container, blocks of ice and a fan that forces air over the ice and out a tube. The G2 can chill air to 50 degrees below ambient temperature and with the tube aimed at the back of your neck, even the warmest conditions seem pleasant. A pressure activated seat switch ensures that the cold air is put to good use (it shuts off when you aren’t sitting down) and the system is shockingly energy efficient.

If you’re a player headed to the desert, ask about the Coolwell when planning your next trip. And, if you are course manager, get in touch with the manufacturer. Leasing rates are a surpsingly low $8.25 a month, and fleet discounts are available. The only significant expense is the infrastructure for block ice production.

A final note: thanks to the Badlands/Troon Golf staff for creating a premiere experience. And, for the curious, Rick and I lost on hole 35.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

the police

the police reunion tour at the oakland collesium After a 24 year absence from the road The Police are touring again, selling our arenas even faster than they did for the record-setting 1983-84 concerts. Through the generosity and foresight of my friend and old roommate Warren, I was about 15 rows back dead center for last night’s show in Oakland.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Stadiums tend to have bad sound – and Stewart, Andy and Sting are getting old. Fortunately, my fears of an over-hyped performance were completely unfounded. Although guitarist Andy Summers might have been a tad rusty, Stewart Copeland anchored the trio with precision percussion and Sting was incredible. His vocals on the challenging Roxanne and So Lonely were spot on, and his energy fed the crowd all night long

The show was a hit-packed 2 hours. Wikipedia has all the details, including the set list. As critics have noted, the intros of most of the songs were reworked to keep the fans guessing, and many were nicely updated. However, the changes didn’t stop all 46,500 in attendance from signing along to hits which have proven timeless. The tour moves East hitting all the major cities before starting the European leg in Sweden August 29.

Bonus link 1: a great SmugMug gallery
Bonus link 2: Stewart’s drum set-up

Sunday, June 10, 2007

channel islands

Don is a great photographer and he loves the outdoors. Last weekend he visited the Channel Islands off the Central California coast, and he was kind enough to send a trip report. In his third contribution to (at least) one cool thing, Don writes:

Channel Islands National Park is the least visited in the National Park system with only about 250,000 visitors a year - and the majority of the visits logged are to the visitor's center on the mainland. Far fewer people venture out to the islands themselves, making them a great place to get away. Two of the islands, Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands are readily accessible from harbors in Ventura and Oxnard. Having previously visited Anacapa Island, I elected this time to make the journey to Santa Cruz Island. The skies were gray and overcast and my plans to photograph the seascapes by moonlight were dashed, but the trip still exceeded my expectations with some thrilling encounters with rare wildlife.

Although not formally part of the park, a channel crossing by boat is mandatory, and is often as interesting as the island visit itself. The Channel Islands are located near a confluence of warm and cold currents and are near a steep undersea cliff which results in an upwelling of nutrient-rich waters - perfect for plankton blooms upon which complex food chains can be built. In addition to the normal dolphin and seals, the morning trip to the island included an electrifying encounter with what we believe was a large basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus swimming slowly along the surface. These slow moving animals can be up to 30 feet long and are surpassed only by the more famous whale sharks in size. They are an extremely rare sight in the Channel - our boat's captain had never seen one before after many years of crossings. I also was lucky enough to see a giant ocean sunfish swimming at the surface.

Once at Santa Cruz Island itself, I disembarked with the rest of the passengers and went on a short hike led by Claire, a park ranger and naturalist, who pointed out various species that exist on the Channel Islands and nowhere else. There are over 140 of these plant and animal species that have survived extinction or evolved away from their mainland progenitors in the isolation of the island ecosystems (some people think the Channels are the "North American Galapagos" for this reason). Among them, I was keen to see the endangered island fox (a miniature fox about the size of a house cat) and the island scrub jay (an example of island gigantism, a species that has evolved to be much larger than its mainland counterpart).

Hiking from our landing at Scorpion Bay to Potato Harbor along the bluffs overlooking the sea, I was fortunate to see one of the small foxes in the grass and snapped some photos. These small canines were on the brink of extinction due to predation by non-native Golden Eagles, which filled an ecological niche vacated by native Bald Eagles that were killed in the 1960's by DDT poisoning. Now that the Island is under control of the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy, their population has rebounded and there may be as many as a couple hundred of these animals on Santa Cruz island, which is somewhat larger than Manhattan. This being a dry year, Claire explained to me that the blue jays were not in their usual haunts and I left without seeing one of them, but I plan to return to the islands soon for another try.

Photos from my trip

Bonus link: Bald Eagle Nest Webcam