iDolphin

Dolphin communicating via an iPadNot content with just conquering the human market with their wildly popular iPad, Steve Jobs & co. are apparently now wooing other mammals as well. You guessed it—even dolphins love Apple gadgets!

Research scientist Jack Kassewitz of SpeakDolphin (who was recently also featured in a post here on 2Dolphins about CymaGlyphs) has introduced the Apple iPad to a young bottlenose dolphin named Merlin in early steps towards building a system of communication. Merlin, who lives at Dolphin Discovery in Puerta Aventura, Mexico, was able to successfully recognize and touch pictures on the screen with his rostrum (nose) to match objects he was shown. Yup, the iPad’s touch-based interface is so intuitive that even nonhuman species can use it!

Merlin plays a simple game where he’s shown an object, such as a ball or a rubber duck then has to point to an image matching that object on the iPad’s screen. (Kassewitz notes that dolphins respond especially well to the color yellow)

So, not only is the iPad “dolphin safe,” it could also play a key role in the advancement of a complete language interface between humans and dolphins. Genius, Steve Jobs, genius.

iTunes Hero

Wurlitzer jukebox image on an iPhoneThinking back on the song “Juke Box Hero,” I started wondering if that has any context with today’s music fans. I mean really, a jukebox? In this age of white earbuds, how many Gen Y or Zers have ever even touched a jukebox?

I fondly recall plunking coins into a flashy old Wurlitzer, watching the machine magically come to life, clicking and whirring as the Rube Goldberg-esqe mechanism selected then whisked the 45 RPM records off the rack and plopped them gingerly down on the turntable, and finally hearing the slight hiss & crackle as the diamond needle met the black vinyl. Man, that was something special!

(And who didn’t envy Fonzie’s special gift for knocking a temperamental jukebox back into action with a quick, cool snap of the wrist?)

What got me thinking about this is a new album by Foreigner called Can’t Slow Down that was released just a few weeks ago. It’s another Wal-Mart exclusive 3-disc set like last year’s Journey “Revelations.” Like the Journey release, this one features one disc of new material, a disc of 10 refreshed versions of some of the band’s classics (including “Juke Box Hero”), and a live concert DVD.

But the parallels don’t end there. Foreigner’s new lead singer Kelly Hansen is to that band’s original frontman Lou Gramm what Journey’s new Arnel Pineda is to Steve Perry. Really. He’s that close. No he’s not exactly Lou any more than Arnel is a true Xerox of Steve, but the vocal style & flavor is so strikingly similar (especially on the studio recordings) that it’ll easily pass as the original singer’s sound for casual listeners. Don’t believe me? Compare the following classic hits as performed then vs. now:

Hot Blooded – 1993
Hot Blooded – 2009
Urgent – 1981
Urgent – 2009

Yeah, it is a little freaky for a guy who looks like he could be Steven Tyler’s cousin to sound like Lou Gramm. And continuing the comparisons to Journey, doesn’t rhythm guitarist & sax player Tom Gimbel (who coincidentally, used to tour with Steven Tyler’s Aerosmith!) look an awful lot like Neal Schon?

Anyway, the new material is good! It may not be quite as punchy & raw as the late 70s / early 80s stuff when Foreigner first landed on the radio (and in jukeboxes!), but the new songs are certainly on-par with much of the group’s mid to late 80s stuff. Several of these could easily be hits if the label works them right. If you were a fan of Mick Jones & the boys back then, you’re going to air-drumming & whistling along with most of the songs on this new album. Of course, it might’ve made more sense for them to remake "Juke Box Hero" as "iTunes Hero" — except that you can’t get the new album on iTunes…

If you give the new Foreigner a listen, post a comment!

By the way, bonus points go out to anyone who saw Foreigner’s original tour in ’85 that actually featured a giant inflatable jukebox. Were you there?

Go With the Flow

Recently, I’ve been thinking…   The widespread acceptance of digital music has probably caused album artwork to become much less important since so much music is being bought electronically now.   And even of the CDs you might’ve physically purchased in the past few months, what was the last one you bought that featured a truly memorable cover design?   Can you even recall the what the album covers from the last 4 or 5 CDs you purchased looked like?

I believe that’s all about to change…

Cover Flow screen shot

Cover Flow, the 3-D interface that iTunes & the new iPod lineup features for visually browsing through your digital music libraries via album covers, was created by independent Mac developer Jonathan del Strother and purchased by Apple back in ’04.   It’s a gorgeous, intuitive, & fun way to peruse your music collection — almost exactly like flipping through stacks of vinyl LP record albums back in the old analog music days.

The more I see of the visually-stunning Cover Flow interface, I’m convinced that its popularity — thanks in no small part to Steve Jobs’ miraculous iPhone — will spark a revitalization of the previously-withering art of album cover design.   Since thumbing through your music collection’s cover art is the coolest way to find stuff on all of the new iPods (except the display-less iPod Shuffle), I think we’re about to see the visual aspect of music get a serious kick in the pants!

And I don’t think the impact of Cover Flow ends there.   No sir, not by a long shot!   Similarly-styled GUIs are going to spring up left & right — not the least of which is Leopard, or Mac OS X v10.5, the sixth major release of Apple’s Mac OS X operating system due out in October ’07.   It’s a safe bet that we’re seeing the next paradigm shift in user interfaces.

What do you think?   Will Cover Flow revitalize album cover design within the music industry?   And will it become as imitated as the iPod’s venerable click wheel?
 

More Pod Peoples

Linda & Kayla have joined the ranks of the iPod people. They both received a 30GB iPod Video for Christmas. In Linda’s case, Santa must’ve forgotten to check that "Naughty" list twice this year!

We were initially skeptical about the video quality since the screen seems so small. But after watching a few minutes of Desperate Housewives, well, that Steve Jobs is a genius!! I could definitely stand to watch a movie on this screen without my eyes becoming bleary. Linda says if you plug it into your TV, the image is just as clear at that size as it is on the small screen. 2Dolphins gives 2 thumbs up!

The 'Other' Carpenters show off their Video iPods

The Pod People Progression

iPod fever continues to spread as Apple wins even more converts with the release of their new second gen iPod Nano series. So, like me, Dede, Gretchen, & Brad “Tre” have joined the ranks of the Pod People:

Brad rolls with an awesome green iPod Mini

Gretchen chills with her iPod Nano v2

Dede rocks with Angus & the boys on her iPod Nano v2

And all 3 quickly figured out that having clean MP3 music file metadata tags is all the more worthwhile once you start loading an iPod up with your tunes. Cleaning up your tags makes it easy to group songs by artist or album or genre and there’s no better tool to help tweak your MP3 files than Florian Heidenreich’s Mp3tag, a powerful & easy-to-use tool that’s also free!

Swap CDs for an iPod

Been jonesin’ for an iPod but jolly ol’ Saint Nick didn’t see fit to bring you one? Well, according to Jeff Smykil over at Ars Technica, you may still be in luck. Millennium, an independant music store in Charleston, SC, is offering a trade-in program where you can swap your old music CDs for an iPod. The trade-in ratio ranges from 45 (for a 512 MB iPod Shuffle) to 175 CDs (for a 60 GB iPod). Note that the CDs you trade-in must be in good shape and have the original jewel case and liner notes.

I’ve Become a Pod People

I love music! I love my MP3s. I used to love MTV, but that’s another story…

And I love taking my tunes with me. So, my faithful, if not glamorous, old Frontier Labs NexII MP3 player & I had been longtime companions. We’ve been together on trips, at work, occassionally at the gym, & on many, many walks. But the old guy was showing his years — the battery compartment was finicky at best, it stopped recognizing any CF memory card other than one specific 128MB Sandisk, and became prone to random shut-offs over the past 3-4 months.

More than once last year, Dede had suggested buying me a new MP3 player for my birthday — and Christmas too! But I was miserly & stubborn, insisting that my NexII could hold on a bit longer. And it’s worth mentioning that the NexII was actually hers to begin with, so I’ve gotta credit her for getting me into an MP3 player in the first place. Well, this year I finally gave in to temptation and asked for a new player for my birthday.

I had my mind set on one, the oddly-named MobiBLU DAH-1550i, which is a 1GB player available only via Walmart.com. I liked the idea that I could drag & drop files to the player (just as I had with my NexII) without having to learn some new interface or abandon Windows Media Player that I’ve grown very comfy with. But the MobiBLU’s capacity is a bit limited and I couldn’t help feeling that I should aim a little higher since I had waited this long and would probably have the player for years to come.

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve liked the looks of the iPods all along. And that the iPod is an industry standard and has all sorts of accessories available for it definitely appealed to both of us. Oh sure, I made sarcastic little remarks about all those mindless Apple zealots who bought into Steve Jobs’ dastardly world domination master plan like rodents following the Pied Piper to the river.

Steve Jobs and the iPod - World domination is at hand!

But secretly, I coveted those sexy little MP3 players with their iconic click-wheel interface, glossy casing, & rounded corners. Earlier this year I had an chance to try Amberly’s iPod Mini and boy, that really hooked me. But the one thing that kept stopping me just short of jumping on the bandwagon was iTunes. I’d read/heard/seen enough to know that iTunes would force me to relinquish control over my music and play the game the Apple way. With iTunes, I’d have to learn a new interface and accept that placing music on the iPod meant moving not copying files to and fro. Nope, there seemed to be too much baggage that I didn’t want to deal with, so the iPod was just not for me.

But despite my resistance, Apple’s sneaky & infectious advertising was working – those cute little iPods kept calling out to me. It’s a best-seller. Websites heap praise upon praise upon the iPod family. TV & print media say that the cool people all have iPods. So who was I to question the iPod? But still there was that darned iTunes…

Dede suggested that there might be some 3rd party software to load music on the iPod without iTunes. Sure enough, while nosing around on Dennis Lloyd’s iLounge.com website recently, I came across some info on a nifty program called Anapod Explorer from Red Chair Software that promised to allow me to retain control of my music, with an iPod, but without iTunes.

All the glory of the iPod but none of the baggage of iTunes? Oh yeah, you betcha… I caved. Dede gave me an awesome early birthday gift — a shiny green 4GB iPod Mini — just in time to take on vacation a couple of weeks ago.   Awesome!   Simply awesome!

A green iPod Mini - it's all good!

So, yup, I’m a pod people now. Steve Jobs is my master. Resistance was indeed futile. The magical little green gem sounds great! When you hear people talk about the intuitive and effortless interface, well, it’s true — the touch-sensitive click-wheel really is that easy to operate. And Anapod Explorer works like a charm, allowing me to move my MP3s to & fro as I please!

Of course, once you’ve been assimilated and have become a pod people, well, you’ve just gotta go find more pod people to hang out with. And there are lots of really good websites out there with iPod info, tricks, tips, & accessory reviews! For example:

iLounge

iPod Hacks

iPod Garage

iPoditude – The iPod Blog

I should mention that iTunes isn’t all bad – in fact, lots of people really like it and Apple updates it often. If you’re not already well-versed and comfy with another piece of software (like Windows Media Player or MusicMatch) then iTunes can be a great tool for playing and managing your digital music collection. However, I’ll also caution you that iTunes gives you the opportunity to purchase music from the Internet – but the music you download at a little under a buck apiece is not in MP3 format and, as I noted in my Digital Music Project blog post back in February, Apple’s AAC music files are encrypted with copy protection. You don’t buy DRM-enabled music — you rent it! So, be sure to consider that before you pay to download music.

So, what are you waiting for? Fall in line, become a pod people, and enjoy some awesome tunes!
 

iPod Tattoos for Amberly

We received a new challenge from Glenda’s daughter Amberly who lives in Brady. She recently purchased an iPod Mini and a package of HP Printable Tattoos for the iPod. Amberly didn’t like any of the pre-made templates available on the HP Tattoo Wizard website, so she wanted to create her own. But this is no easy task!!! The design website doesn’t allow you to manipulate your graphic very much once it is uploaded and, with the hole cutouts for the iPod screen and wheel, well, there’s just not that much space for a graphic. So, Amberly mailed us the package of tattoos along with a wish list of what she wanted on them. Well, my frustration level with using their website for creating these custom tattoos was met quickly.

I did a Google search for a better template for designing these tattoos so I wouldn’t have to use the HP site. I finally found some info by Tony Williams at O’Reilly Digital Media. Unfortunately, his instructions were for using Adobe Photoshop for the design and I don’t have this software or know how to use it. However, I found this link at his site for getting a PDF template of the tattoo. I took the PDF and exported to a JPG file so I could use it in any graphic program (I use Microsoft Digital Image Pro). From there I was able to make it a transparent tattoo template so I could layer my custom graphics behind the template and manipulate them until they looked the way I wanted. After the layout was correct, I deleted the template layer and saved the graphic as a JPG that could then be uploaded to the HP Tattoo Wizard site and make the skin. This was a LOT of work but it made things much easier than only using the tools provided on the HP Tattoo design wizard site.

Below are the printed iPod Tattoos that I did for Amberly using our Epson Stylus Photo R200 printer. The iPod Tattoos are Alice Cooper, Joan Jett, AC/DC, and Jimi Hendrix-themed… Everything that a growing rocker needs!!

Custom iPod Tattoos for Amberly

Amberly doing her Joan Jett impersonation.  Rock on!!