Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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You banned this track

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There’s the fun last.fm service. It tracks your music listening habits and apart from statistical niceties also offers ‘social’ web services based on your listening habits as well as the possibility to listen to radio streams based on the music you have listened to or on similarity to some bands you specify. That’s quite handy – particularly if you have your music library on an external hard drive and want to listen to something vaguely decent nonetheless while you’re away from home.

For some reason support for last.fm – or audioscrobbler as it used to be called – on the Mac isn’t exactly ideal. You’re listening to music in iTunes anyway (well, who doesn’t?), so having some iTunes plugin do the magic of submitting information would seem natural. And that seems to be the solution that people on Windows systems can use. Hassle-free, I’d guess. But on the Mac you have to use a separate application that gets the relevant information from iTunes. Traditionally that application is iScrobbler which does an OK job while wasting some space in your menu bar.

But all that, iTunes and iScrobbler, will only do the job for submitting data and not really give you the full benefit of playing songs complete with track information cover art and – most important for broadly-hating people like myself – a Ban button. While you can play the streamed mp3 file right in iTunes that doesn’t tell you what you’re actually listening to. So you’ll need an additional tool like Amua to handle those chores for you. Meaning that in the end you’ll be using three separate applications for what should be done in a single one.

From this point of view, it’s great to see that the last.fm people came up with their own application that at least handles all the last.fm related activities on your computer. Not quite the convenience of an iTunes plugin, but at least one less application. If it weren’t for the bleak reality that their application sucks major ass. It looks like typical multi-platform trash UI-wise, doesn’t communicate too well with iTunes (why doesn’t any English speaking 21st century developer ever test with non-ASCII strings right from the beginning?), gets in my way. And last but possibly worst, the application actually takes on the task of playing the last.fm streams itself.

To be honest, I wouldn’t care too much about that if the application were remotely good at it. But it’s blatantly not. I don’t say that streaming and playing music smoothly is trivial but other programmers have managed to get it right by now and nobody wants to feel like ten years ago when the music started skipping just because you opened a menu or put some load on the system. And that last.fm application does just that. (Just click and hold the mouse button in its menus – or the Finder’s menus – to get the skipping joy). So, uh, it’s just not very good.

Bach played in the last.fm application

The screenshot above probably illustrates numerous obvious problems of the application. And it may also highlight one of my pet peeves with music as it is handled by computers: They may do fine for pop music, but they’re just not good when it comes to handling classical music. That may be a consequence of the (current) demographics of programmers and computer users, but it’s still a problem. And personally, I just need to get my Bach fix every now and again and find it to be perfect music for working. I think this strange ‘skew’ in my listening profile already outwits last.fm a bit when trying to find people with similar taste to me (as in that it’s very unlikely that I will be among the top-most hits on the ‘people with similar taste’ list of other people, just because I have a few classical artists in my profile).

I also find that the profiling the site does doesn’t work particularly well for classical music where both the composer and the (interpreting) artist do matter a lot. While it is true that I listen to a lot of Bach, there are plenty of Bach recordings which I find horrible because they are played horribly. And, not only does the system quite reliably manage to pick out the crappy artists for me (dear reader: Would Sven listen to an album called Ultimage Relaxation? I doubt it. I’d rather guess he’ll loathe it…) it will also put some odd movement of a classical piece right in the middle of a stream of pop songs. And it will classify Back as similar to Mozart, Beethoven, Händel, Dvorak and Chopin. Ah, well done then, the wonders of technology at work…

August 31, 2006, 0:18

Tagged as software.

Comments

Comment by jetfuel: User icon

I tried to give the new last.fm player a chance, but it’s just not usable. The inexplicable failure to recognize anything that’s not ASCII, the impolite resource drain, and the utter unMaclikeness were just too much. Thankfully, the old iScrobbler plug-in still works fine. Since I don’t use their streaming stations I only have to have that one extra thingy running.

August 31, 2006, 22:25

Comment by Call Cruncher: User icon

Haven’t ever tried the last.fm player but haven’t heard real good things about it. Thanks for hte post.

August 31, 2006, 23:07

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