Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BlueBeat.com and The Best of British

A friend of mine on Facebook, Celeste, recently introduced me to the music service, BlueBeat.com. Having enjoyed it immensely, I wanted to share it with my readers, and offer you a little gift (see below).

BlueBeat.com is a subsidiary of Music Rights Technologies Inc., a company that creates products to distribute on-line media securely. It offers several ways to enjoy and share its comprehensive (and growing) catalog of music for free. Firstly, I should mention that the media players they provide, sound great. The default player uses Flash, and plays at 160kb/s. An upgraded player, which plays at 320kb/s, is available if you register with the site (which is free). I had a few technical problems when I used the upgraded player, probably due to lack of bandwidth, but I am perfectly happy with the quality of the default player.

What you are allowed to hear depends on where you are listening from, and whether you are registered with the service. For example, if you are in the USA and you are registered, you can actually listen to entire albums if you wish. In addition, you can listen to what BlueBeat refers to "Live Collections," which fall into one of three categories, "Artist," "Time Machine" and "Killer Playlist." Artist is somewhat obvious and represents all available tracks from an artist. A Time Machine is a collection of music from a particular time-period or genre. There are Time Machines for Synthpop and "The British Invasion" for example. A Killer Playlist is a handpicked "cream of the crop" collection based on a genre or theme.

One feature that makes BlueBeat very exciting for me is that it allows registered users to create what it calls "crates." A crate is a user-defined playlist that allows one to become a DJ. It may contain any combination of songs, albums and Live Collections. One neat thing about live collections is that they can expand when new music becomes available to BlueBeat users. The one restriction to a crate is that it must consist of at least, around 3 hours (40 tracks) of diverse material. This must meet the guidelines of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which means that it cannot deliver more than three songs from the same album within a 3-hour period to a particular listener, and cannot deliver more than four songs from the same artist within a 3-hour period to a particular listener. As long as you have a "diverse" crate, the player software takes care of the rest. Once you have created a crate, it can be listened to by anyone.

So now, I can get to the reason I wanted to write about BlueBeat in this blog. For the listening pleasure of my readers, I created a crate called Best of British. It is an evolving collection of what I consider the best of British music over the years. It contains mainly Rock, Pop and Folk and includes the British Invasion and Brit-Pop "time machines." So you might hear music by Billy Bragg, The Beatles, Fairport Convention, Erasure, Saint Etienne, Blur and Ultravox, among others.

I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know by dropping me a comment. I would also like you to think about what you might include in such a collection. If I get enough suggestions, I will create a brand new crate to include them.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I Don't Get Guns, Cowboy

I'm now convinced this is an irreconcilable cultural barrier linked to "The Old West" and other historical events, but I cannot get my head around the American fascination with guns.

Mrs. Adolph Topperwein. [with gun] (LOC)

How ever many times someone says "guns don't kill people, people kill people," I have to say that if that person didn't have a gun in their hand, they probably would not be doing as much damage.

I know there has been a big problem with knife violence in Britain, but I believe there's a fundamental difference between using a knife and a gun. You use a knife, and you actually have to connect with the person you're attacking. Forgive me for putting this image in your head, but you have to feel it going in your victim. With a gun, it's almost like pushing a button - there's no connection. Plus there's all that room for "collateral damage," not to mention gun accidents.

I originally thought the guns/no guns argument was political - that Republicans were pro-gun and Democrats were anti-gun, but that's not entirely true. On a semi-related theme, I can't understand why someone can think that keeping records of gun-owners is an invasion of individual's privacy, while at the same time thinks that keeping DNA records of participants at a perfectly legal political protest is fair game. Or for that matter why so many "pro-lifers" are also pro death-penalty.

Having talked about guns, I will point out an interesting fact for the benefit of my British friends: Maybe it's just the circles I move in, but despite living in New Jersey (legendary home to mobsters and all sorts of shady characters) for more than ten years, the only people I've ever seen with a gun in real-life are cops.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Eleven Doctors, Torchwood and Wossy!

A work colleague, who knows I'm a big fan of the British science fiction series Doctor Who, and is a fan herself, recently sent me a link to this article in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. I was excited to read that a special fifteen-minute episode of Doctor Who was planned to be shown for Children in Need, a big TV charity event, similar to America's Telethon. Apparently, it was to feature David Tennant, the eleventh person to play the Doctor (part of the plot has The Doctor regenerating periodically) and all the Doctors' past. That includes parts from actors no longer with us, using clips from old shows. As a fan, this got me very excited! Doing a little more research, I found the article was based on this "exclusive" from another British newspaper, The Daily Mirror. The comments on this particular article are quite revealing! The Mirror piece, quoting unnamed sources, is almost identical to a story the newspaper ran when Christopher Eccleston, the previous actor who played The Doctor, was still playing the part. My guess is that the episode won't happen, but I can dream, can I not?

Seeing this story did remind me of some more tangible news for American fans of British shows, however. Torchwood, which is a spin-off of Doctor Who, is coming back to BBC America. This year, the BBC made a five-part mini-series version of the show, called Children of Earth, and it will be aired in the UK starting tonight. Here in the US, it will be shown on five consecutive evenings, starting on Monday, July 20th. BBC America is currently showing the previous season, which might help you catch up, if you are interested.

I was very pleased to see that Friday Night with Jonathan Ross has started showing on Friday nights on BBC America. It's one of the few shows on BBC America that airs pretty close to its original broadcast date (I think it's about two weeks behind the UK). The first episode that aired featured Dustin Hoffman, Hugh Laurie and soccer player turned actor, Eric Cantona. While you might think that would be a great lineup, unfortunately, all the guests were a little subdued on this occasion. Ross (or @wossy as he is known on Twitter) had a real struggle to keep the show going. That was such a shame for the introduction to the US of this show, and probably put some off. It is worth sticking with, though. Subsequent episodes have been excellent, featuring Jack Black, and Take That, among others. Like The Graham Norton Show, also on BBC America, Ross's show delivers chat with a good dose of British humor.

Do you have a favorite British TV show airing in the US? Do you have a favorite Brit show that you wish would come to America? Brits: what goodies are we missing? Make a comment and let us all know.