Monday, March 22, 2010

Grooveshark and The Best of British

In a recent article in this blog, I talked about my use of, a free streaming music service that I had been using. Unfortunately, changed its service recently. They had started offering MP3 downloads at a much cheaper price than iTunes and other services. When they started advertising Beatles tracks at 25 cents each, they drew the attention of EMI and their attorneys. They forced the service to close down for a brief period, and when it returned, it had changed. No longer could one stream songs or entire albums on-demand, which was a feature I used a lot. is still a good service, however, and if you haven't checked it out yet, you should.

I recently heard about another free streaming music site called Grooveshark. Having checked it out, I decided I really liked it, and have been using it a lot. You can listen to tracks on-demand, and they have an extensive library. What's more, if they do not have a track in their library, you can upload it. According to their Help information, they pay the record company whenever you play a song. They are supported financially via advertisements you see when you use their browser-based player. You can also pay a small monthly fee to remove the advertisements.

In addition to playing individual tracks, you can build playlists of songs. Also, they have a "Radio" feature, where they will automatically play songs based on what you're already listening to. This is a great way to discover new music. Grooveshark seems to understand the importance of "social" features, and you can share songs and playlists via Twitter, Facebook, and even post them to your blog or website. Seeing these features inspired me to put together a Best of British playlist to share with readers of this blog. I hope to make an entire series of these playlists, containing what I consider to be among the best music, in many genres, to come out of the British Isles.

So, in Best of British 1, I've included artists I've been listening to a lot recently (see my recent blog post, Couch Potatoes: England 2010 Part 3), such as Lily Allen, Goldfrapp, Paloma Faith, Florence and The Machine and La Roux. Vince Clark, who I consider to be one of the most talented musicians to come out of England, is represented by Yazoo (Yaz in the US) and Erasure tracks. The playlist kicks off with a great Kinks track, and while we're talking about quintessentially English artists, you don't have to choose between Oasis and Blur, because they're both represented here. For the folkies, there is a classic from Fairport Convention. I'm particularly proud of the juxtaposition of Amy Winehouse's Rehab with Ian Dury's Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.

Please do let me know what you think of it, by posting a comment. If you have suggestions of tracks or artists I could include in a future Best of British, do speak out.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

An Afternoon Constitutional

As I related in a recent blog post, I have been spending too much time in front of the computer recently, and not getting nearly enough exercise. To do something about that, I've been arriving early to pick up my daughter from school in the afternoon, parking my van, and walking for fifteen to twenty minutes, while listening to audiobooks on my MP3 player. It has been working well for me.

Recently, friends I've made while using Google Buzz told me about Audioboo, an audio-blogging service. Coincidentally, Stephen Fry, my inspiration for walking while listening to audiobooks, has used the service a lot. This UK-based site is optimized for iPhone, and has a corresponding application. However, they have recently added the ability to upload any audio files, or to record from your web-browser. I don't have an iPhone, but I have a voice recorder built into my mp3 player, so I wondered if I could do a little audio-blogging while doing my afternoon walk. This has led to a new mini-project, which I have called An Afternoon Constitutional, after that Victorian idea of the walk for the constitution, or health.

It has been an interesting experience. I was not aware, at first, that there is a five-minute limit to "Audioboos," and my first attempt was sixteen minutes long! When I realized my mistake, I used an audio-editing program, Audacity, to edit some material out of it and split it into two five-minute "episodes." I'm sure I could have found another service that would have allowed me to record for longer, but I decided that five minutes was quite long enough for anyone to listen to. I've already had some mild complaints about all the puffing and panting during the recordings. This is the only time I really have available to do this; it is keeping me interested in my walking, and hopefully, as I get fitter, there will be less breathing noise!

My "boos" are a little different from my posts here. For a start, I talk about anything that's on my mind, and not necessarily on subjects that would fit well here. There will of course be some crossover. I don't plan out what I'm going to say (although I usually have an idea of the theme), so they tend to be very "stream-of-consciousness." Please give them a listen, and let me know what you think.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The British Connection - An Interview

Pretty much any expat, whatever country they originally come from, will find themselves craving an item from "home." Fortunately, there are enterprising individuals who see the opportunity in supplying such items. The British Connection is a store in Absecon, New Jersey, run by Dave Brown, an expat originally from London, and his American Wife Barbara. After running their store in Historic Smithville Village for seven years, they moved about a year ago to the new location, where they have been able to expand their business, adding a large selection of cheeses and a small cafe. Barbara very kindly allowed me to bombard her with questions.

With an entertainment background, Dave first met Barbara when he was running a karaoke night in London. After he tried to drag her up on stage with him, she thought he was "a bit cheeky, but called him anyway." They came to the US to pursue entertainment opportunities in the casinos in Atlantic City, NJ. Unfortunately, they found the casinos had been converting their lounges to slot-machine parlors. Making the best of it, they started an entertainment business, doing children's shows and parties. Barbara was, quite literally, a clown - also "Minnie Mouse, Cinderella...and a Teletubby." During a visit to Barbara's parents in Florida, her Mother suggested they visit a store called The Brit Shoppe. The couple "were amazed to find some of our foods we missed from the U.K.! Three months later, the British Connection was up and running!"

I asked Barbara about some of their own favorite British foods. Barbara said she loves HP Sauce and Branston Pickle, while "Dave is all about the chocolates and bacon!" On the question of "Marmite: Love it or Hate it?" they are the exception to the rule; they both "like" it. Asked whether there was something she'd like to explain to their customers, given the opportunity, Barbara said "it's o.k. to laugh at the spotted dick...everyone does!" One question that Barbara is often asked is why she hasn't got a British accent; Dave gets asked what part of Australia he comes from! Barbara believes that most of their customers are expat Brits, but she admitted, "maybe they just come in more often." One of the recent additions was a cafe area, where Barbara often relaxes and has a cup of tea and a chat with her regulars: "I have to say the people that come in are really wonderful and great conversationalists. Part of the reason that I created the cafe section was so that we could sit and have a cuppa."

When asked what they miss about life in England, it came as no surprise to me that Barbara mentioned pubs. Although they enjoy relaxing over a meal and drinks with friends, they don't have a favorite bar in the US, but they do have friends with pubs in the UK: "The Hare and Hounds in Godstone is good fun, and another friend in London owned a pub called Novello's in Fulham. She had an Elvis impersonator there 2 nights a week for 10 years, Brilliant!" I asked Barbara about how often they got to visit England: "Not as often as we would like. We try to get there once a year, but we do like to travel to other sometimes we miss a year. We usually have visitors every year - we keep the guest rooms ready!"

Have you visited the store? Do you have any favorite places to get international foods? Let me know.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Some Snippets to Share

There have been a few things happening just recently that I'd like to share with you, so I thought I'd collect them together in one post.

If you are currently living in a different country from where you grew up, I'd encourage you to take part in a survey that is being conducted by Expats Moving and Relocation Guide. The idea is to collect information about different cities around the world, with an emphasis on their suitability for expats. I completed an entry for my city of residence, Edison, NJ. With enough entries, this could be a valuable resource.

The News and Views SectionI have added a "News and Views" section to the right-hand column of this blog. This collects together news stories, articles, etc., that have caught my eye recently, and which I think might be of interest to my readers. Click on a heading to go to the story. Only the five most recent headlines appear, but clicking on More News will expand this. For those who are interested, the list comes from my shared items in Google Reader. When I see a story I want to share, I use a "Note in Reader" application, and it automatically becomes available in the "News and Views" section. Let me know if you find it useful and/or entertaining.

I have been using Google Buzz a lot recently. It works a lot like web-forums, bulletin-boards or discussion areas of old, and combines it with social media. It's a little like a Facebook "wall," although it promises to be a lot more organized - searchable too. Its big plus is that it is instantly available to anyone using Gmail. If you want to try it out, or if you've been using Buzz yourself, you can find me here.

Soon after I returned from my New Year's trip to England, I was contacted by Jon Gibbs who runs a blog for writers. Its name: An Englishman in New Jersey! It was set up at about the same time as this one was, which explains why neither of us found one another before. So, are we firing off "Cease and Desist!" letters to each other, with promises of lawsuits? Of course not! Like good Englishmen we settled things over a cup of tea...well actually, after a series of e-mails. We figured that nobody would really be confused by the identical names, as our audiences were probably quite different. We talked about adding mutual links to "The 'other' Englishman in New Jersey." Jon's site is really rather good - take a wander over there if you have any interest in writing.

Finally, British site Londonist has a great series of articles running right now. They're looking, chapter-by-chapter, at a city guide written in the 1960s by popular spy author Len Deighton. Called The London Dossier, the book offers a wonderful snapshot of swinging London.

If you have found a website or other resource that you think might be useful to readers of this blog, please do share in a comment.