Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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April 2003, Week 1 -- Radio on Demand

   There are several new services that provide music and voice that can be piped directly to your computer through high-speed access lines. It's the way the big business of entertainment is headed: what you want, when you want it.

   The services all charge a fee, typically $5-$20 a month, but it's worth it. It's true you are being asked to pay for music and programs you can tune in for free by turning on a radio, but the radio offers only a pale reflection of what you get from these online libraries. You can choose from more than a quarter million selections. You choose what you want to hear, play it as a single or make it part of a playlist, and there are no commercials. You can call up music and radio shows that you almost never get on radio (Spike Jones' "Cocktails for Two," for example, or "The Shadow").


   We looked at four of these new services: "Rhapsody," "MusicMatch," "EMusic," and "RadioClassics."


   Picking the best was easy: it's Rhapsody. Selections are easy to find, easy to add to a playlist, and about half of them can be burned to a CD. They charge 99 cents a track for burn permission, which works out to a good $20 or more for a full CD, but on the other hand you end up with a CD full of music you actually like, instead of buying a commercial CD with one or two tracks you want and a dozen you don't.


-- Rhapsody  charges $10 a month. We had very little trouble figuring out how to select pieces and create a list. A corner box on the screen provided snips of information about the composer or performer, which was kind of a nice touch. They also have radio drama, stand-up comedy, poetry readings, short stories, speeches, etc. They have a kid's section with novelty songs.

Music Match

-- MusicMatch  costs $3-$5 a month; you get a bigger selection and more controls for $5. Making a playlist was easy, and there was some music here we didn't find anywhere else.

   The database organization was weird. To find Johann Bach you had to go to a list of classical artists and look him up. If you just tried entering his name from the main search field, you got nothing. If you click "artist on demand," you got what you selected, but if you then click on "artist match" you got what the computer considered to be related music. We clicked on the "American Military Band" and got Johnny Cash as a match; classical violinist Itzaak Perlman got us "Pearly Shells," a Hawaiian song; for Tchaikovsky it gave us new-age composer Yanni. Clicking on Beethoven got us the theme music from Charlie Brown TV specials.

   EMusic  got an "editor's choice" award from PC Magazine and we thought it was pretty good, though not as good as Rhapsody. Searches were easy here; type in "Bach" and you got Bach, no problem.

    RadioClassics  offers just what you would think they offer: old radio dramas. Lots of comedy here: Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, Baby Snooks, etc. Mystery and sci-fi shows include Boston Blackie, Dimension X, Dragnet, The Whistler, etc.


   All these services have free 30-day trials. You have to give your credit card number, so remember to cancel or they'll start billing you. It's not the cheapest way to enjoy the kind of radio you want, but we pay for cable TV so why not cable radio?


Spam: sliced and stacked

   Over the past year we have looked at just about every Spam blocking program in the known universe. They all work to some extent and they all fail to some extent. After some thought and experimentation, I have reached a conclusion: dump em.

   What I've found is that it takes less time to dump the Spam as it comes in then to keep a Spam blocking program up to date. I get about 150 emails a day. Out of that 150, there are typically four or five I actually want to read. Getting rid of the rest is easy.

   Click on the first one you don't want and hold down the shift key as you continue going down the list. When you reach a sender or subject you want to see, click on the email just before it. That highlights that whole group of junk. Click on "delete" and that dumps the whole highlighted group. You'll typically dump 20-30 junk emails at a time this way. It takes only two or three minutes to go through the whole list. This is much faster and easier than maintaining a spam blocker. I hope all those programmers kept their day job.



  Build Your Own Entertainment System

   "Build Your Own PC Home Entertainment System," by Brian Underdahl; $25, Osborne/McGraw-Hill This is pretty much where things are heading: You will have integrated sound and video systems, connected by wire or wireless, all controlled by your personal computer, which, when it isn't busy providing entertainment, will collect your e-mail, download stock quotes, record TV programs and answer your phone. If you want to use the computer for anything else, that's okay too.

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