Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: September 2008 (page 2 of 4)

iTunes Genius playlists

Apple - iTunes - What's New in iTunes

I’m fascinated by the new Genius playlists feature in iTunes. I have an entire other post in me explaining how they have changed how I listen to music, but as a developer I’m also interested in how the feature works.

I was excited when I saw this button on the iTunes What’s New page, but unfortunately all it tells you is how to create a Genius playlist. I’m interested in how iTunes creates the playlists, and I don’t think this illustration is quite what I’m after.

What I do know is that for Genius to be able to make use of tracks, you have to send information about them to Apple. Genius won’t work until you initialize it, and you have to update Genius when you add new tracks to generate playlists from them.

I know Pandora has an algorithmic approach to mapping related music, called the Music Genome Project. Wikipedia has a brief explanation of how it works:

A given song is represented by a vector containing approximately 150 genes. Each gene corresponds to a characteristic of the music, for example, gender of lead vocalist, level of distortion on the electric guitar, type of background vocals, etc. Rock and pop songs have 150 genes, rap songs have 350, and jazz songs have approximately 400. Other genres of music, such as world and classical, have 300-500 genes. The system depends on a sufficient number of genes to render useful results. Each gene is assigned a number between 1 and 5, and fractional values are allowed but are limited to half integers.[1] (The term genome is borrowed from genetics.)

Based on this blog post, it sounds like Apple uses an approach based on listener behavior:

Genius works by looking at the songs you play and the songs you skip. It analyzes the data, along with all the data from everyone else in the world who uses iTunes and Genius, and picks artists it thinks you’ll like. The more people use Genius, the better it should work.

I’m wondering whether the data Apple has been collecting since 2006 when they launched the iTunes MiniStore was used to create the Genius feature.

Anyone seen any additional details?

Old votes or new proposals

Time’s Michael Scherer argues that criticizing a politician’s old votes when they’re easier to attack than their new proposals is unfair. Here’s what he says:

Here’s an old political consultant trick: You want attack your opponent for supporting Policy X, because your pollsters tell you such an attack would help your candidate. But there’s a problem. Your opponent doesn’t clearly support Policy X. So you send off researchers to find an old legislative vote that you can use in an ad to mislead the public about your opponent’s plans, without lying outright. Instead of saying “My opponent supports Policy X,” all you have to say is “My opponent once voted for something that sounded a lot like Policy X. Be very afraid.”

I don’t necessarily agree with him that this is necessarily unfair. To show that I’m not just being an Obama partisan on this, let me provide an example that pertains to my preferred candidate. Obama’s tax plan promises to lower taxes for everyone making less than $250,000. Sounds good to me, but campaign promises are cheap. I think McCain is perfectly justified in going through Obama’s voting record and arguing that given his history, this is a promise he is unlikely to keep. (McCain’s people constantly claim that Obama is going to raise taxes on the middle class, and the Obama people argue that they’re lying because Obama has promised to lower their taxes. I think there’s space to confront a candidate with their own legislative history as long as it’s done honestly.)

I think it’s out of bounds to intentionally distort your opponent’s record. For example, the claim that Obama supported sex education for kindergarteners was dishonest and unfair.

But if nothing else, if a policy you propose differs with the votes a politician has previously made, they ought to be obliged to reconcile their voting history with what they claim they want to implement.

Times change

In 1895, J.P. Morgan bailed out the federal government by supplying it with $62 million in gold in exchange for bonds. By the end of the month, independent investment banks may be extinct.

Best economic joke of the day

Best joke of the day goes to Tyler Cowen. I love gallows humor.

Using games for terrorist collaboration

A defense researcher has created a hypothetical scenario that envisions how terrorists might conspire to commit a terrorist attack using World of Warcraft.

Saying what I’m thinking

John Scalzi posts eloquently on a topic that has been consuming my thoughts lately: what does it mean with the most effective tactic in a nation’s politics is to shamelessly lie, even after your lies have been exposed?

Definitely read the whole thing, but the part I wanted to quote is his explanation of why Obama should not adopt McCain’s tactics:

To go back to Obama and whether he should embrace the philosophy of flat-out lying, perhaps it makes sense for him to do so, but I certainly hope he doesn’t. Not because I think it’s better to have honor than power (although I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have honor rather than power) but because I believe that someone should be making the argument that one can win an election by something other than a willful determination to lie in people’s faces, and to encourage them to cheer those lies.

The fact of the matter is that at this point in the election, it’s not just about what positions the candidates hold on various political subjects. It’s also about how the candidates, and the parties behind, choose to see the people they intend to lead. The GOP and the McCain campaign, irrespective of its political positions, sees the American voter as deserving lies, lots of lies, repeated as often as necessary to win. And maybe they’re right about it. We’ll know soon enough.

Obama has famously said that the election is not about him, it’s about us. People accuse him of false modesty, but I think he nails it completely. This election presents us with two choices, and who the majority of Americans choose says a lot more about us than it does about the candidates.

Here’s Tom Toles on the same topic.

Pandora’s Tom Conrad on Android

Given Apple’s developer-hostile practices when it comes to the iPhone and the iTunes App Store, it’s becoming increasingly important for other mobile phone providers to build handsets that are more competitive with the iPhone. It looks like the best hope on that front is Google’s Android, so I was interested to read Tom Conrad’s thoughts on the platform.

Conrad is the head tech guy for Pandora, the Internet radio company whose client is one of the most compelling iPhone applications.

He lists as plusses Google and the Android team, and as minuses, the fact that differences in hardware will make things rough for developers, and that carriers (not Google) will be the ultimate arbiters of how open the platform is.

I think many people who aren’t iPhone owners might see it as odd that people feel so strongly that Apple needs competition in the handset market. The iPhone is a relatively small player in terms of market share. The thing is, though, I don’t think there are many iPhone owners who would trade their phone for any other handset on the market. Blackberry is nice in some ways, but it’s not an iPhone. (Nor is iPhone a Blackberry.) The market is crying out for more decent substitutes for both.

Alaska’s share of America’s energy

Since John McCain picked a certain person who will not be named as his running mate, I’ve seen a number of politicians (including the unnamed running mate) state that Alaska produces twenty percent of America’s energy. That sounded a bit off to me, but of course I didn’t follow up. Matthew Yglesias did, though, and reports that Alaska produces 3.5% of America’s energy (and 14% of America’s oil).

Factcheck.org has more on this topic.

Sarah Palin laid bare

Hopefully this will be my last Sarah Palin post. I just wanted to make sure to point out today’s New York Times front page article on her record in Alaska. Nobody who’s read it can argue that she’s anything but the typical Alaska politician. She’s a pursuer of vendettas, hirer of cronies, and tinpot autocrat, and there’s a damn good chance she’ll be the next Vice President of the United States.

Oh, and to an address a talking point I’m tired of hearing, running against an incumbent from your own party doesn’t make you anything other than ambitious. How do people think Barack Obama got his start in politics?

Finally, if you have an insatiable appetite for criticism of John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, read Andrew Sullivan.

The human cost of war

A video of civilian casualties in Afghanistan was released by the London Times today. I don’t have much to say about this other than that this is war, and we’re involved in two of them. I think it’s often times thought of in too abstract a fashion, especially by its proponents.

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