WEEKEND Techies

Ayo technology.

The Way We Listen Now

// by Baobao Zhang

“Spotify is the greatest thing since sliced bread!” my friend proclaimed this summer when the music streaming service arrived in the U.S.

I rolled my eyes. “What’s the big deal?” I thought. Haven’t we seen Napster, Limewire, Pandora and Grooveshark come and go? After my friend kept waving her Spotify app in my face, I begrudgingly downloaded the program.

Nine months later: I am addicted to Spotify. I open it more often than I open my iTunes or turn on my iPod. Originally critical, I was soon won over by the program’s clean graphics, expansive catalogue, and extensive sharing features. (The ads are pretty annoying, but I’d rather not pay a monthly fee to avoid them.) Most importantly, I felt good about using Spotify because I wasn’t breaking the law.

Little did I know Spotify was killing my music listening habits. Unlike Pandora, which generates a virtual radio station based on a song, an album, or an artist, Spotify allows users to choose what exactly they want to listen to. During the first month of using (it’s like a drug), I was overwhelmed by the freedom. I felt like a five-year-old at Hershey Park.

Slowly, the magic wore off. Instead of exploring new music, I kept returning to the same old tunes. I must have listened to Brahms’ “Ein deutsches Requiem” 50 times, featuring a dozen different orchestras — I’ve even heard the four-hand piano version! Worse still, instead of listening to a whole album, I would fixate upon a song till it grew tiresome.

In my pre-Spotify days, I was an adventurous music listener. Because I reviewed music for “Scene,” WEEKEND’s predecessor, I needed to keep up with the latest bop right off the block. I obsessively followed podcasts from NPR Music, WNYC and KEXP. I read everything from Rolling Stone to Paste to Pitchfork. Every time NPR’s “Exclusive First Listen” came out with a new album, I would set aside time to listen to the entire thing. Some of the music I encountered, like Dirty Projectors’ “Bitte Ocra” or Eric Whitacre’s “Choral Music,” never quite won me over, but they were worth the listen. But I also discovered some of my favorite albums, such as PJ Harvey’s “Let England Shake” and The Black Keys’ “Brothers,” through this same process of exploration.

Most importantly, I listened to an eclectic mix, from bluegrass to gospel, from piano virtuosos to Azerbaijiani singers. I listened because they were the only things available to legally stream on the internet. (Beyoncé or Taylor Swift, or rather their labels, didn’t let their entire albums stream on the web.) As a broke college student, I could neither afford to buy music, nor did I want to illegally download music. (Limewire can give your computer viruses — it’s not a myth.) So I listened to whatever I could find; incidentally, these sounds broadened my musical horizon.

The unfettered freedom of Spotify ironically limited my appreciation for new music. Too much freedom of choice is not necessarily beneficial — take cable news, for instance. Jurist and economist Richard Posner argued that the explosion of cable news programs made news shows a lot more partisan.

In the pre-cable days, there were only a few news programs, so they did their best to be “fair and balanced” to appeal to the median viewer. (To all you political scientists and game theorists out there, it’s the Downsian model!) Nowadays, in the world of the 24-hour news cycle, networks find it more profitable to target partisan, niche markets. Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow stay on the air because people like to watch news that confirms their political views.

Spotify is not nearly as bad as Fox News, I’d like to tell myself. But, just as I had stopped watching TV, I might have to delete Spotify from my computer soon.

Contact baobao Zhang at

baobao.zhang@yale.edu .


Yale Wiki: Because the Common Good and Stuff

// by Aaron Gertler

So here we have a website that could potentially be the most useful thing ever and is definitely not just the quickie creation of someone who wants to run for YCC. I happen to live above someone who wants to run for YCC, and was thus recruited to join staff. So now, whenever I write anything, I get to thinking “hey, why aren’t I on Yale Wiki, contributing to the sum total of all human knowledge?” It’s because I know that I only write to see my name on things, like everybody except the unselfish human beings/saints who built the Yale Wiki from the ground up.

But actually, this is a good site (and one you should write for), even when it deviates from traditional Wikipedia formatting. Take “Making the Most of College,” for example. Some stressed-out senior wrote a long, heartfelt essay about everything from constructing the ideal Four-Year Plan to keeping yourself physically healthy. But that wasn’t the end of it. Someone else got to swoop in and make the infinitely useful contribution of adding an embedded link to a half-baked Yale Wiki article on physical fitness that they spent an hour writing solely so they could embed it everywhere and feel useful. Ahem.

Yale Dining, Computer Stuff Yale Pays For, Where To Buy Things — really, Yale Wiki is HackYale for people who don’t know how computers work but still want to make their lives easier. If people read this website, Yale might start giving us some money, which means we could make an app and devote more time to content creation and possibly start embedding videos and fancy interactive polls (read: the Favorite Sushi War to End All Wars). We’re creating a mass-information system that compiles and applies student wisdom in ways the University can’t match, so if you have some wisdom, visit yalewiki.org today (tomorrow, next week, no rush) and tell us all of your secrets (and recipes; we need recipes).

Plus, this is where all the Harvard kids who didn’t get into Yale will eventually be spending their time. Crying, I hope.

Contact Aaron Gertler at

aaron.gertler@yale.edu .

The Future: Pulling the plug?

// by Jacob Evelyn

Everything is going wireless. Phones used to be bound by those curly wires that allowed you to walk a daring 10 feet away from the kitchen telephone jack, and before that an operator had to sit at a telegraph machine all day, receiving messages from London via a cable running across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Then (skipping over a remarkable sunlight-based wireless telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter in 1880), radio came along and became the first-ever widely used wireless communications technology, with the exception of delivering mail by horse.

Then came pagers, then cell phones, then Wi-Fi. Today you’d be hard-pressed to find a college student who connects to Facebook by any means other than the magical Internet that floats around in the air.

Interestingly, our concept of The Future doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of creativity here. What comes after Wi-Fi? Sure, lots of sci-fi involves faster-than-light communications (probably originated by Ursula K. Le Guin in 1966), but the actual things being transmitted wirelessly (electromagnetic waves) seem to have plateaued in our imagination.

Not so in science, friend. In the late 1800s, Nikola Tesla managed to illuminate phosphorescent (and a few years later, incandescent) lamps with electrostatic induction — that is, wirelessly. Here’s something Le Guin never thought up: the wireless transfer of electricity.

You may have heard of newfangled wireless chargers for iPods, iPhones, iPads, and, hell, BlackBerries or whatever else old-fashioned people use. Though we’re only just getting them now, these wireless “induction chargers” use the same basic technology Tesla used over a hundred years ago, leveraging magnetic fields to transmit electricity instead of that tangled mass of wires behind your desk. Induction chargers are now being made for everything from laptops to electric cars. The Age of Induction means no more cables, no more exposed metal.

As you might expect, wireless induction is less efficient than standard conduction charging, and typically requires charging objects to be placed on top of a charging pad. But a company spawned by research at MIT, cleverly called WiTricity, is looking to change that. Using resonance to amplify the induction, WiTricity claims it can produce highly efficient power transfer across a few meters of air — a feat that trumps all other wireless charging companies by a wide margin.

But wireless charging, in any form, still requires a wire: from the outlet to the charger, perhaps, or from the power line to the outlet. Nanotechnology company Nanoholdings has developed materials allowing electrons to be captured from sunlight, stored on any surface, and beamed around the home or around the block or wherever need be. Though these nanomaterials appear to be in relatively early stages of development and testing, if Nanoholdings founder Justin Hall-Tipping’s claims are true, we won’t need power plants or electrical lines any more. “The grid of tomorrow is no grid,” he proclaims in a TED talk, “and energy, clean efficient energy, will one day be free.”

Wow.

One of the problems with this sort of future, however, is the idea of beaming energy from place to place. Typically, receiving energy in this manner is relatively inefficient. That may be changing, however, with results from NASA’s Beam Power Challenge (later renamed Elevator:2010). The goal of the competition is to create an efficient cable-climbing robot powered by infrared energy beamed from lasers on the ground (eventually NASA hopes to use this technique to power an elevator to space, a very cool idea I will tease you with but not delve into).

The NASA challenge was won by a company called LaserMotive, and if their energy beaming is indeed efficient enough, the final key may be in place. Long-range charging, off-the-grid energy transfer, and efficient solar energy capture all point toward one thing: we may finally be able to make electricity, itself, wireless.

Contact Jacob Evelyn at

jacob.evelyn@yale.edu .

A New Composition

// by Carolyn Lipka

The most popular camera in the world is the iPhone camera. Apparently, people use it for more than just snapping photos of their drunk friends with red solo cups or James Franco in Starbucks. Although I think the mupload itself is an artform, the camera on the iPhone is fast becoming a legitimate tool, increasingly endorsed by artists of many mediums. An HD camera for both still photography and filming, the iPhone provides virtually anyone with the opportunity to make a professional looking film or take a high quality photograph.

This method of photography was recently validated as art with the new exhibition “Call to Everyone” at the Donald Mitchell Library in Westville, CT. The exhibit, curated by photographer JoAnne Wilcox, features photos taken by cell phone cameras printed on card catalogues and due date cards from libraries.

“People are realizing that there’s something in their pocket that can put them into a creative space any time in their day,” Wilcox said. “My goal as a photographer over the years has been to always have my camera on me, and suddenly I found myself using my cell phone camera all the time.

This kind of exhibit is just the beginning of a slow recognition of cell phone photography as a more legitimate artform. Although the photos that result from phones are perhaps not as easily manipulated as an SLR, and take much less work than an actual film camera, they still allow virtually anyone to become an artist.

Camera phone photography brings about a debate in the art community about what defines photography as an artform. Critics argue that the phone limits your ability to frame and compose a shot outside the confines of a very limited zoom. Purchasing “apps” can give your phone a fisheye lens, but an artificial one at that.

So is iPhone photography really art? Or does is just impersonate it?

Wilcox sees her camera as a tool to create art, and her cell phone similarly. WIlcox said that she believes the camera doesn’t affect the eye of the photographer, but merely limits them to the modifications that a cell phone camera has. At the end of the day, it won’t be the same as having a digital SLR, but that doesn’t negate the art it produces.

“It’s an excellent tool for honing your eye and playing with composition and framing,” Wilcox added.

Photography is not the only visual art people are exploring on their cell phone cameras.

The capability to record video on a cell phones has further expanded the base of people able to make films. More people have access to HD video cameras, and with that, more people are able to experiment with the medium.

Qualities that are symptomatic of filming on one’s phone, like shaky film or a slightly elevated view with restricted frame, have been adopted as techniques by the actual film industry. Yale Film Society President Becca Edelman ’14 sees this style employed by big budget films like “Paranormal Activity” and “Project X.” She also sees increased use of the phone camera as characteristic of a larger trend in film.

“It is [part of] the movement toward producing films on a lower budget,” Edelman said. “It’s great that anyone can make a film, although I’m not sure how easy it would be to create an entire film on an iPhone.”

Making film on the iPhone is hard, but not impossible. Manipulating the zoom is a little complicated, and the cameraman is restricted to two aspect ratios, the widescreen or long shot. In order to make the camera still without extensive post-production tricks, the cameraman needs a tripod, not something really made for camera phones. The lack of viewfinder and one’s ability to make small modifications, like setting the white balance or adjusting the sound, only add to the user friendliness of the device, but simultaneously take away the nuance needed to implement certain artistic visions.

Despite its pitfalls, the iPhone camera rocks. It allows everyone with a cell phone to make calls, play “Scramble With Friends” and make art. Developing an artistic eye and playing around with composition is vital to the creation of a photographer and a filmmaker. The popularization of the cell phone camera allows all of us to be Scorsese or Leibowitz.

Contact carolyn lipka at

carolyn.lipka@yale.edu .

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