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How eMusic changed my music shopping

music is in the air

Music is in the air by *MarS

Earlier this year I signed up for eMusic, a long-running service that operates on a “download to own” model; you pay a monthly subscription fee and redeem that money for DRM-free MP3s.

I joined eMusic only because I saw an offer for a bunch of bonus credits and also needed to get a copy of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS immediately (long story). I had every intention of joining, using the free credits, and quitting. Who needs another monthly bill?

But I forgot to quit, and now I look forward to the monthly charge. The subscription model has changed my music shopping process–it’s like giving yourself a monthly music allowance. Psychologically, it’s easier to allocate pre-paid money for something unknown than it is to buy it outright. So I finally have those songs I bookmarked on Pandora back in 2008 and the album that’s spent years on my Amazon wishlist.

And the subscription model leads to more music discovery. If you know you have money to spend on the site, you’re more likely to browse around and see what your neighbors are into, what’s newly-released, and what’s recommended for you.

So welcome, The Young Knives and Starlight Mints and Hellogoodbye. Serge Gainsbourg, you’re only here because I was on a lot of cold medicine that day, but welcome to you too. Viva la subscription.

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Choices, curation, and CSAs

Greensgrow haul

CSA share from Greensgrow Farms

Back in 2005, I read Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice, a life-changing book*.  I think of Schwartz’s maximizers and satisficers whenever I’m paralyzed by many choices in, say, the toothpaste aisle of Target.

But what if you’re not in the toothpaste aisle of Target?  What if you’re on Amazon.com and can choose from millions of book?  Or you’re facing a feed reader with thousands of unread items?  Assuming that funds and time are finite, how do you choose?

It’s no longer a matter of choosing the first option that meets your needs.  We need to pre-screen and remove the cognitive load of irrelevant options altogether, either through a human curator or an algorithm.

When I tell people about our community supported agriculture (CSA) membership, the first question is usually, “is pre-paying for a season of farm food cheaper than buying it at the store?”

Frankly, I have no idea.  This is the wrong question.  We’re paying first and foremost to support local farmers, but we’re also paying the good folks of Greensgrow (our local urban farm) to build relationships with growers and choose the week’s produce.  We pay them to make sure each delivery has leafy greens, veggies, fruit, and cheese.  In other words, we pay them to curate our food, and it’s a great investment.

*Barry Schwartz recently signed my copy of the book—so cool!

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Lesson From the Jury Box

Serving as an alternate juror is one of life’s more frustrating exercises.  It’s all the inconvenience of attending the trial and none of the decision making.  In terms of actual hours worked, however, it’s an easy job:  arrive at 9:30, start working at 10 or 10:30, take a two hour lunch, and leave by 4:30. This schedule leaves plenty of room for deep thoughts. I even broke a longstanding policy and bought a pretentious Moleskin notebook because I wanted my deep thoughts to be important and stylish.

Deep thought number 1:  what do we miss by not paying attention?
Our judge instructed us not to take notes—we had to sit in the jury box without the aid of external mnemonic devices, which seemed like an impediment that could well lead to a travesty of justice.

I found the opposite to be true, though. When was the last time you sat in a room without phones, newspapers, iPods, or conversations and just actively listened? It’s the freedom to find the truth by not only listening but by studying clues like body language, demeanor, and facial expressions, which you can’t do when your head is buried in a notebook. There’s a place for conversations, questions, and notes, but it’s during deliberations, when twelve people bring their individual observations to the jury room and render a verdict.

Outside of the courtroom, we spend a lot of time and money to go places and do things, only to cheat ourselves by not paying attention.  It’s become more important to broadcast and perfectly capture our trips, conferences, and nights out than to live them. What contextual information do we miss when live-tweeting a keynote address?  How can we form mature, thoughtful, and independent judgments in a world of chatter and soundbytes? Information might be free, but knowledge and wisdom require a price, part of which is knowing when to listen.

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ColdFusion: keep it girlie

Attention, female ColdFusion developers. I found the following information in some recent internet travels:

Silly CF Banner

I, for one, refuse to “upgrade” to a less girlie version of ColdFusion.  In fact, my pores are clogging at the mere thought.  Does anyone have a recipe for scones?

Girlie CF Banner

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