New Rancho Radio Set

I uploaded a new set to Rancho Radio this morning. 269 great songs, from alt. country to country rock to 80’s alternative to classic rock to blues.

Almost 18 hours of music and what I genuinely believe is the best mix you’ll find anywhere.

Among the many great artists featured are Laura Cantrell, Steve Pride, the Swills, Ten Years After, Tom Waits, Whiskeytown, Uncle Tupelo, Traffic, Willie Kent, Stonewall Jackson, the Troggs, Velvet Underground, Tompall Glaser, ZZ Top, the Zombies, Willard Grant Conspiracy, Warren Zevon, Tanya Donnelly, Syd Straw, Grateful Dead, the Hangdogs, Jesse Dayton, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the Jayhawks, Iron & Wine, Honeybrowne, Fever Tree, Joe Ely, White Witch, South Filthy, Six String Drag, Pee Wee Clayton, Humble Pie, Joe Jackson, Junior Kimbrough, Kasey Chambers and many, many more.

There’s a real time playlist on the Rancho Radio page.

My Adventures in GPS

The other day I flew to San Antonio to give a speech. The cabdriver who drove me from the hotel to the airport on my return trip had a GPS device on his dashboard. On the way, he told me all about it as it showed him and told him where to go. When the primary exit to the airport was backed up, it even automatically adjusted the route for him once we passed that exit.

I was intrigued. But not enough to spend the $1200 he told me he spent on his unit.

So I looked around and found a slightly newer version of the unit I saw on eBay. Factory refurbished and with a manufacturer’s warranty. For around $400.

garmin2620So I bought it. A Garmin StreetPilot 2620.

Out of the box, it booted up easily and I had maps and navigation immediately. Except I had 2 year old maps. Ones that didn’t have, for example, the Westpark Tollway, which I use several times a week. No biggie, I figured. I’ll just buy the newest map program and all be all set. Right?

Hardly.

First, I went to the Garmin web page, which looks straight from the nineties. I couldn’t find any reference to the map program on my unit- City Navigator, North America (Version 6). So I called the customer support line (before 5:00 p.m., when it inconveniently closes). A nice lady told me that the new version of that program (Version 8) was not yet available, but that Garmin would send me the DVD in August for free. Then I could buy an “unlock code,” via an anti-piracy system that would make both the RIAA and Strat-O-Matic feel inadequate.

The next night I was looking around Amazon, and lo and behold, what did I see, but the not yet available City Navigator, North America (Version 8) for sale and definitely available. My red flags were beginning to flap in the wind, but I took the plunge and bought the DVD for a little over $100. When it came, it had a date of April 2006, so I was excited about having maps that work.

Once I tore the DVD package in frustration over not finding my “unlock code” in the materials and noticed it inside of the cardboard container (not inside the DVD case, but between the front and back of the sealed cardboard container that the DVD case came in (you have to see it to appreciate how uber-Easter Bunny it was placed), I installed the maps on my computer- a required first step to getting them on your GPS unit. Then after watching the first tutorial I have had to watch in a decade or so in order to figure out the highly non-intuitive map program, I selected some maps to download to my unit.

It had been a hard climb, but I was almost there.

Hardly.

First, the unit could not- and still cannot- maintain a connection to my computer. After preparing the maps for download, the connection is always and consistently lost and I get an error message that the application cannot communicate with my device. Like sunrise and sunset, it happens everytime. The exact same way.

That leaves my device displaying its own special version of the BSOD, with a hopeful, but false message: “Transferring Data…” Fraid not.

In sum, it simply does not work. Garmin has created a process that only a confederacy of PhDs could understand merely to install new maps on your GPS unit. It is beyond frustrating, and as soon as business hours roll back around, I’ll take time out of my business to give them the business (to quote Wally Cleaver).

One gigantic mistake I made was buying the internal hard drive version, as opposed to the memory card version. 20+ years of computer geekdom tells me it would be much easier to load these freakin’ maps on a memory card than to try in vain to keep my unit talking to my computer. Plus, with a memory card you can get more memory to add more maps if you, unlike me, can get the application to actually add the maps you have purchased.

I may change my tune once I call Garmin tomorrow, but so far my verdict on this Garmin GPS is that it is a highly frustrating piece of doo-doo.

It simply shouldn’t be this hard to install updated maps on a GPS unit. And the most frustrating thing about it is that, at least to a large extent, it is difficult by design.

AOL Retention Policy Uncovered

As I predicted the other day when the Vincent Ferrari (not to be confused with Vincent Vega) story was all over the blogosphere, the zealous AOL rep who really, really, really didn’t want Vincent to cancel his AOL subscription was simply doing what AOL’s retention manual required.

Some juicy excerpts from Consumerist, the site that unearthed AOL’s retention manual (see the Consumerist post for more excerpts and discussion):

“Allow your callers to talk comfortably about their concerns…watch their concerns and resistance drop.”

“The reason that many Members are going to high speed is, because the actual internet connection is much more stable….we now have the perfect solution…a free modem.”

“Consumers believe everything is a commodity, i.e. where can I buy the service for the least cost. My objective as a salesperson is to prove otherwise.

The retention policy talks about “redirecting the Member if necessary” by restatement and questions.

There’s nothing particularly unusual about AOL’s retention policy, but it does show that this was more than simply the work of a rogue customer rep.

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Where It Ain’t in Music Discovery

I have to disagree with Fred Wilson about finding new music.

Pandora and Last.fm are absolutely, positively and without a doubt the holy grail of music discovery. I have discovered more good, new music on those sites in the past month than I have in all of my years of blog reading.

It’s not about spoonfeeding- it’s about algorithms (be they mathematical or social) that help you find music you like, but have never heard. Whether that’s music on a 20 year old record or music freshly uploaded by the artist is immaterial.

I have traditionally favored Pandora slightly over Last.fm, but with the new design and added features, Last.fm has pulled even in the two horse race for dominance in music discovery. Here’s my Last.fm page for anyone interested, and here’s Fred’s.

If you, like me, are an alternative country fan, you can add Twangville to the mix for a trifecta. If you like live classic rock, add one more site to the list: Vault Radio.

And I have to agree with Bob Lefsetz, particularly when he writes:

I’ve got XM. I’ve got Sirius. I’m not living in the world of terrestrial. I never want to hear another commercial AGAIN! I just want music. All the time.

and:

“Remember how you used to rush home to play your favorite records? How you needed nobody else in the room to feel joy? How you played the same track for an hour straight?”

I remember the first time I heard Paul Kennerly’s ensemble record The Legend of Jesse James. I listened to Charlie Daniels sing Northfield: The Disaster over 100 times in a row over a week or so. Not one other song entered my ears that week. It was spiritual. And it’s still one of the best songs I have ever heard.

Now back to Fred.

He says that the place to mine for new music is the mp3 blogs. He gives no link to them, because they are distributed. It’s like those cats in that commercial. They’re out there somewhere, but getting them to one place is a chore.

Yes, there’s The Hype Machine, which I think is a pretty neat web site. But unless it wants to change its name to The Next RIAA Defendant, it is going to be limited in the scope of music it can include. Don’t get me wrong, I like The Hype Machine, but Pandora it is not.

Blogs are great, and some of them feature good new music. But, in general, blogs are where it ain’t as far as discovering new music without a lot of unnecessary effort. Heck, even podcasts are far better suited for that purpose. One of the reasons we do the RanchoCasts is to help people discover new music.

New music doesn’t mean music that was just made. It means music that is new to the listener. When I became a huge blues fan a decade or so ago, a new universe of new music suddenly became available to me- little of it made after 1980.

I’m all about unsigned bands and new music that hasn’t been manufactured by the star maker machinery behind the popular song, but let’s not get carried away.

There is an almost unlimited universe of new music waiting at Pandora and Last.fm. And it doesn’t take herding cats to find it.

50 Records that Changed Music

The Guardian Observer has a list today of 50 record that changed music.

Here’s the top 20 on the list with my short take on each.

1) The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967): Venus in Furs is one of my all time favorite songs, but the most influential rock album of all time? Please.

2) Beatles/Sargent Pepper (1967): Great record, can’t argue with a number 2 rating.

3) Kraftwerk/Trans-Europe Express (1977): Never heard it.

4) NWA/Straight Outta Compton (1989): I actually had this record before I wrote off rap altogether. I’d put Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back ahead of this one. If you want to be completely accurate, it was Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight that started the entire rap movement.

5) Robert Johnson/King of the Delta Blues Singers (1961): This record was a momentum play, fueled by the sold his soul to the devil marketing plan. I’ll take any Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters record over this one any day.

6) Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On (1971): Can’t argue too much, but Johnnie Taylor and Al Green were doing the same sort of stuff just as well.

7) Patti Smith/Horses (1975): Everybody treats this record like it’s a sacred relic. It’s pretty good. Not number 7. I’d put the Sex Pistols as the top punk act.

8) Bob Dylan/Bringing it All Back Home (1965): Not my favorite Dylan record, but still a trend setter.

9) Elvis Presley/Elvis Presley (1956): Can’t argue with this, but where is Little Richard, the true creator of rock and roll?

10) The Beach Boys/Pet Sounds (1966): Absolutely a top 10 music changer. I still listen to this record regularly.

11) David Bowie/The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972): Glam rock that was still good music.

12) Miles Davis/Kind of Blue (1959): I’m not a jazz fan, but hard to argue.

13) Frank Sinatra/Songs for Swingin’ Lovers (1956): I’m not much of a Frank fan either, but hard to argue.

14) Joni Mitchell/Blue (1971): Sorry, but I would have to agree with the cash register and go with Carole King’s Tapestry. Court and Spark was the Joni record that changed me musically.

15) Brian Eno/Discreet Music (1975): To my knowledge, I have never heard a Brian Eno song.

16) Aretha Franklin/I Never Loved a Man the Way I love You (1967): Girl power, round one.

17) The Stooges/Raw Power (1973): About right for these punk pioneers.

18) The Clash/London Calling (1979): Should be much higher.

19) Mary J Blige/What’s the 411? (1992): Never heard it.

20) The Byrds/Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968): This first marriage of rock and country should be way, way higher. Other possibilities are the Dillard and Clark records and the early Eagles.

Where in the world are The Allmans/At Fillmore East, Grateful Dead/American Beauty, and early the Who? Where is Exile on Main Street, a record that scads of artists still try to emulate?

My favorites from 21-50:

26) Stevie Wonder/Songs in the Key of Life (1976)

27) Jimi Hendrix/Are You Experienced (1967)

35) The Ramones/The Ramones (1976)

36) The Who/My Generation (1965)

42) The Smiths/The Smiths (1984)

44) Talking Heads/Fear of Music (1979)

49) De La Soul/3 Feet High and Rising (1989)

Overall, a good list chock full of good music.

Recipe for a Killer Podcast Application

podcastingWhile doing last night’s RanchoCast, I thought of an application that would not only bring podcasting to the masses, but would also be very useful for current podcast listeners. I’m going to tell some smart guy or gal somewhere how to put themselves on the Web 2.0 map.

I have said before and I’ll say again, that as long as podcasting is technologically or psychologically tied to iPods and other portable music players, it will never reach the mainstream. Nobody I know, either socially or professionally, uses an iPod or other portable music player. Not one person. A couple of people I know have iPods, but they tell me that after the initial thrill of having one wore off, the iPods got relegated to a drawer somewhere, rarely to see the light of day.

Granted, I’m sure lots of kids and college students have iPods, and if you don’t mind ignoring millions and millions of grownups with lots of disposable cash, then so be it.

But if you want to bring podcasting to the masses, some things are going to have to change.

First, you have to understand that grownups who listen to podcasts generally do not listen on an iPod. We have made some progress integrating computer-listening features into podcasts. The Delicious playtagger supports this (as an aside, am I the only one who noticed that all of the Delicious buzz went stone silent as soon as Yahoo bought it?), as does the new play button in Feedburner feeds.

But there is another place where grownups listen to even more of their music, talk shows and audio books- in the car. Which leads me to my recipe for a killer podcast application.

Want to be famous and actually make some money too? Then create this-

An application, online or local, that allows a user to subscribe to podcasts and organize their subscription lists.

Allow them to listen to the podcasts online or to download them into an iPod.

Here comes the new and important part…

Create an easy to implement way to have selected podcasts automatically burned to a CD-R every week or so, with each podcast to be a separate track. After it is set up, the application would simply prompt the user to insert a CD-R every so often, at which time it would burn that week’s podcasts onto a CD-R that could be listened to in the car.

The application would also create a text document with the track numbers, names, dates and descriptions of the podcasts. That document could be printed and used as a listening reference. Label maker developers could write plug-ins that would allow the automatic printing of jewel case labels or, even better, templates for applications, like my Primera printer, that print on the CD-R itself.

Have the podcast name and date burned on the CD-R as CD Text.

Most car stereos can play MP3’s now, so that would be the default setting- for more capacity. But there would also be an option to burn the CD-R in CDA format so older car stereos could also play it. CD-R’s are almost free these days, so cost is not a factor.

Plus, the CD-R’s would allow the user to create an archive of podcasts and to share good ones with friends.

People would happily pay for this product. And if you wanted to be true to the Web 2.0 mantra and get some of the allegedly infinite ad revenue, you could place ads on the application pages, if it’s an online application, or on the CD-R between the podcasts themselves. Perhaps there would be a cheaper version of the application that has brief ads between the podcasts and a full-priced version that doesn’t.

I realize that you can burn podcasts to CD-R’s now, but it’s simply more trouble than most people are willing to go to for a concept they don’t fully understand or embrace. To get to where the population and the dollars are, you have to make it easy for people to say yes.

Let me say it again, the customers we are trying to sell to are not geeks like us. They want something that is (a) easy, and (b) cool and useful, but in that order. Too many Web 2.0 developers get it backwards. You have to make it easy to say yes, because it will always be easy to say no.

Take podcasting into the cars and trucks of the masses and you’ll see podcasting really take off.

Otherwise it’s just too easy to say no.