Daily Archives: December 2, 2009

Travelocity Desktop Instantly Notifies You of Price Drops [Downloads]

If you still need to book your holiday travel plans, time’s running short. On the plus side, Travelocity’s new desktop application will watch destinations and alert you as prices drop, so you can snag a deal as soon as it’s available.

Travelocity’s free Adobe AIR-based desktop app for Windows, Mac, and Linux saves your preferred city of origin and destination, then automatically refreshes anywhere from every four to 24 hours (your choice) to keep an eye out for airfare and hotel deals. The truly impatient can manually refresh the app whenever the mood strikes.

The app coughs up lists of the best deals in the area you’re searching and even populates a map with the results so you can get your bearings in an unfamiliar area. If you see a great deal you think you’re friends might appreciate, share it with the built-in Twitter and Facebook APIs.

How do you find the best last-minute travel deals—or did you plan ahead and purchase your tickets six months ago? Let us know in the comments.






Scribbly Takes Notes and Emails Them to You [Downloads]

Windows/Mac/Linux (with Adobe AIR): Note-taking application Scribbly lives in your system tray and lets you quickly write notes or reminders to yourself, and then will email them to you with a single click.

Once you've installed the application, you can simply click the system tray icon to bring up the single note-taking window, type in whatever note you'd like to send to yourself, and then send it off with the click of a button—you'll need to set your email address in the settings, of course. The notes persist even after you minimize the application to the tray, so you can use it to take little notes throughout the day, and then email them to yourself before you go home.

The application is very simple, but where it could be really useful is when you combine it with Gmail’s plus-addressing feature—just add something like username+notes@gmail.com to your email address in the settings, and then setup a Gmail filter to automatically put those notes into a separate label for storage. It's a useful feature that makes it worth a look, at least. Scribbly is a free download for all platforms with Adobe AIR.

Scribbly [Adobe AIR Marketplace via Digital Inspiration]






FileStream Save() Extension – Easily Save Your FileStreams with the Option of No-Overwrite

an extension to allow fast simple saving without worrying about overwriting a file

With these extensions, you can save a FileStream as simple as this:

fs.Save(@"C;/file.txt");

Now if you run it again, it will save another file named file[1].txt, then file[2].txt and so on.
If you want to overwrite a file, simply state true for the overwrite flag:

fs.Save(@"C;/file.txt", true);

Here is the code:

public static string Save(this FileStream file,    string path) { return file.Save(path, false); } public static string Save(this FileStream file,    string path, bool overwrite) {   int count = 1;   string folder = Path.GetDirectoryName(path);   if (!Directory.Exists(folder))      Directory.CreateDirectory(folder);   int fileSize = Convert.ToInt32(file.Length);   string fileName = Path.GetFileName(file.Name);   Byte[] bytes = new Byte[fileSize];   file.Read(bytes, 0, fileSize);   string root = Path.GetDirectoryName(path) +      "\" + Path.GetFileNameWithoutExtension(path);        while (!overwrite && File.Exists(path))   {     path = root + "[" + count++.ToString() +        "]" + Path.GetExtension(path);   }        File.WriteAllBytes(path, bytes);   return Path.GetFileName(path); }

The Human’s Guide to Running Google Chrome OS [Chrome Os]

Two weeks ago Google released the source code of their upcoming Chrome OS operating system, and thanks to some fast and hard-working developers, you don’t have to be a coder to try it out.

While Google’s official word is that you have to build Chromium OS from source to try it out on your computer, several developers have released installable builds that save you the trouble. Let’s take a look at how to take Chromium OS out for a spin without typing make or build.

Setting Expectations: Meet Your New Bicycle

Before you get started, you should know that Chrome OS (or in this early development stage, Chromium OS) is an operating system that essentially consists ONLY of a browser. You can't install applications or twiddle with settings—Chromium OS feels like it's just Google Chrome with no layer between it and your computer. It's a neat idea, but kind of disappointing for software geeks who like lots of settings. It acts just like a regular old browser with not too many innovations, except that it's lightning fast. For more on Chrome OS's backstory, see our first glimpse at Google Chrome OS.

Mac-lover John Gruber predicts that Chrome OS will be the operating system on your secondary computer; he says that Google’s betting that instead of two cars, you just need a car and a bicycle. Meet what might someday become your new bicycle.

Testing Method 1: Run Chromium OS as a Virtual Machine

The easiest, surefire way to try out Chromium OS without even rebooting your computer is running it as a virtual machine. If you’ve got a Mac or an incompatible PC and you just want to see what Chromium looks like without having to restart or worry whether or not your internet connection or keyboard will work, this is the way to go.

What you’ll need: First you’ll need software that can run virtual machine images; I’d recommend you go with the free, cross-platform VirtualBox. Secondly, you’ll need to download the prefab Chromium OS virtual disk image. For the price of a free site registration, you can download a working virtual machine from gdgt.com.

How to boot it: If you’ve used VirtualBox before, firing up Chromium OS in it isn’t much different than any other operating system. When you create the new image, set the OS Type to Linux/Ubuntu as shown.

Then, use the vmdk file you downloaded from gdgt as the virtual boot disk.

For a detailed step-by-step screenshot tour, check out The How-To Geek’s guide on how to run Chrome OS in VirtualBox.

The disadvantage of this method is that Chromium OS won't be as fast as the operating system is designed to be, because it's running in a virtual machine—in other words, you won't get to see Chrome OS's amazing boot time or snappy responsiveness. The advantage of this method, however, is that your internet connection, keyboard, and mouse will work whether or not they're on Google’s list of approved hardware.

Testing Method 2: Boot Chromium OS from a USB Drive

A virtual machine is just that—virtual—and you want to see the real thing. You can run Chromium OS natively on your computer from a USB stick if you’ve got the right hardware.

What you’ll need: To boot Chromium OS natively, you’ll need a netbook or laptop known to work with Chromium OS (note: that list isn’t exactly complete, so your mileage may vary if you try gear that’s not listed), a 1 gigabyte USB drive, and the bootable USB image. Download the “Diet” Chromium OS for a 1 gigabyte USB drive here. (Thanks to Hexxeh for offering these!)

Note that the USB stick method does NOT work on Macs. (See below.) Also, a Chromium live CD is not available because it needs to write to the disk; therefore, a writable USB stick is the way to go.

How to boot it: The USB build developer Hexxeh describes how to prepare your USB drive for booting on Windows:

Download Image Writer for Windows and extract the program. Launch the program, and select the image (chromiumos.img) and your USB drive letter from the drop down box. Click “Write”. The install image will then be copied to the drive. Once it’s done, close the program and you can then boot from the USB drive.

Mac users can prepare the USB drive as well, but remember, Macs cannot boot into Chromium OS from the USB drive. Linux users, here’s how you can install the image to the USB drive.

Now that your USB drive is bootable, shut down your computer, insert the drive, and start your computer. As it’s booting, hit the boot menu key and set your computer to boot from the USB drive. (The boot menu key and method for setting the boot drive to the USB stick varies from computer to computer; check your user manual or Google your model to see how to do it.)

When your computer starts up for the first time, if you’re using Hexxeh’s build, the username and password are both facepunch. Normally these login details will be your Google account username and password, but if your machine is not yet connected to the internet, facepunch it is. If all goes well, your keyboard, mouse, and wireless or Ethernet adapter will work with Chromium OS and you’ll be in the cloud in seconds. If not, check this hardware compatibility list for more info about what might or might not work with your computer.

For an alternative to Hexxeh’s USB build, check out the handy torrent with instructions from MakeUseOf.com. (Note that the default login username and password is different than Hexxeh’s build in the MakeUseOf.com build.)

If you’ve got an ASUS Eee PC and you’ve already downloaded the virtual image in the first method, you can turn that into a bootable USB stick as well. Here’s how to create a USB stick from the virtual image and boot up your Eee from it.

If you’re already running Ubuntu Linux (Karmic Koala) on your laptop and you can’t get Chromium OS to work with your Wi-Fi card, Linux user Lee Briggs explains how you can patch the USB build with your current drivers.

The main advantage to testing Chromium OS using a bootable drive is you’ll get the native experience with the speed and responsiveness of a real computer. The disadvantage is that your current hardware might not work with Chromium OS.


What’s your favorite method for test-driving Chromium OS? Was it worth the time? Are you using it regularly? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Gina Trapani, Lifehacker’s founding editor, looks forward to Chrome OS’s official release. Her weekly feature, Smarterware, appears every Wednesday on Lifehacker. Subscribe to the Smarterware tag feed to get new installments in your newsreader.






GroceryWiz Is a Full-Featured, Grocery-List-Making Webapp [Groceries]

It’s easy to forget things grocery shopping once you’re bumping elbows with the masses. GroceryWiz is an easy to use, fully customizable webapp that keeps your weekly grocery needs in check.

(Click the image above for a closer look.)

GroceryWiz is a quick and easy tool for adding grocery items to a virtual and printable list to make your trips to the grocery store easier and more productive. It keeps track of your weekly purchases and saves your lists from week to week to help identify frequent purchases you may have left off before you hit the print button. You can add notes for each ingredient, in case you need a reminder as to why you need it—or what dish it's destined for. The whole thing prints out in an easy to read list that's divided by category to ensure you don't leave something behind, before leaving a certain section of the store.

Sign up is free, and the site also offers freebie offers and coupons, though those features require a bit more of your time than a few off the cuff edits to stay on top of your daily or weekly shopping list. If this seems a little over the top for your needs, you can always try using a basic template to streamline your own handwritten lists, or try shopping every two weeks to save money and make things a little more routine.






BEST SONGS OF 2009

These are my 75 favourite songs of 2009: songs I love more than peaches & pears.

I follow one arbitrary rule: that no artist may be listed twice.

I made similar lists in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Of course this year I did the daftest thing and expanded from fiftysomething to 75 best tunes. Guys, I had to.

The best way to browse this list is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.

You can also download a complete zip of the 75 songs here [315mb], via InfiniteMb.

Don’t forget: Dan listed his favourite albums of the year here yesterday.

Please buy albums, singles and EPs by bands that you enjoy. Whenever possible, I’ve included links to make purchases. In some cases, Said the Gramophone will get a small commission. We’ve also set something up with the fine mail-order Insound: Add the coupon code STGsongsof09 to any order and receive 10% off (expires Jan 30). Hurray!

Said the Gramophone's Best Songs of 2009 - James McNeill Whistler's 'Nocturne in Black and Gold: Te Falling Rocket'

original painting by James McNeill Whistler (source)

  1. Sharon Van Etten – “Much More Than That” [buy]
    In a year of so many songs, I don’t know why it is that my favourite is a thing of voices and acoustic guitar, improperly recorded. And yet in certain ways, I do know: it is about words, tune, the way this melancholy yearns toward beauty. Sharon asks a question I ask myself every day. // I have wondered it often. Watching the wind push down a plastic chair. Standing and holding my grandfather’s hand. Seeing a girl turn away. I have wondered this as I stared at a padlock; as I stared at a key; as I woke, at 6:45am, to the bleep of an alarm. There are no words, I thought at these moments; and always I ask if it is the words that are lacking or I who lacks them; and like Sharon Van Etten I wonder if I can improve, if I can become better, if one day I will have words for everything. If I will be able to say I love you in a way that speaks its every leap and ridge; if I will be able to say I’m sorry with words that do not tremble or glow; if I will have another word for darling, a better word, hidden and small, and dawning.
  2. El Perro Del Mar – “Change of Heart” [buy]
    A glossed and despairing kind of Fleetwood Mac, I wrote. Earlier I tried (and failed) to tell this song as a story. The song doesn’t need all that gabbing. It tells its own tale in drums and flicks of guitar, soft light, a gorgeous doom.
  3. Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks” [buy]
    It’s like the label suits took Grizzly Bear aside, stubbed out their cigars, and said, “Give us a hit!” The band built this glad, voracious tune with swirling voices, cymbal smashes, struts of ringing piano. Yet there’s also something creeping in the corners, green and malevolent, alive and deadly, as if the ivy is taking over the house.
  4. Dirty Projectors – “No Intention” [buy]
    “No Intention” showcases the Dirty Projectors as summer pop band, as streamers in a park … But as airy as it feels, (like Spoon on a beach, or the instrumental middle-eight of Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”,) “No Intention” is virtuosic, utterly intricate. The arrangement of voices, of fingers on guitar-strings, of rhythmic twitch and back-step … snapping sunshine out of the sky.
  5. Drake ft. R. Kelly – “Best I Ever Had (Skeemix)” [unreleased - MySpace]
    It’s the same story: foul-mouthed & silly, AutoTuned & crass, and yet (or rather: and therefore) a chorus you want to sing to your darling, you desperately do; and if you don't have a darling, you wish you did, just for this.
  6. Clues – “Approach the Throne” [buy]
    I tried writing about this song in April, talking about friends and rivals, crowns, a molotov cocktail thrown at a tree-house. Someone in the comments complained, You forgot to mention Fugazi. This album is among the very best of the year.
  7. Girls – “Hellhole Ratrace” [buy]
    This is a better song than “Lust For Life” (the other highlight from Girls’ hearty, lusty debut), but it’s also more hidden. It smiles and keeps itself secret. Girls sing the song three times before you see what the song really is, there behind the wine-stained melody, the jingle-bells, that golden guitar. Then, at last, they lift up the sky and let the roaring starlight in. // I tried to write “Hellhole Ratrace” as a short story, here.
  8. Micachu & the Shapes – "Golden Phone" [buy]
    With a ting, a stutter and three bongs, Micachu introduces herself; and then with oohs, organ, more bongs – she introduces herself again. And yet again, this time with handclaps, buzzes, balloon-squeak & guitar. What we learn: She's from London. She's a genius. And here's a daft and broken pop song, a violent collage, a phone left off the hook. One of the year's most thrilling new acts.
  9. Twin Sister – “I Want A House” [free EP]
    The first half of this song is about how good it would be to move in with your lover. It’s coo and thump, swing and lick; it’s blue and rose. And then the second half of this song is about what it’s like once you’ve moved in. It’s a paradise in windchime and bassline, hair on pillow and ice in glass. I can’t help but imagine Daft Punk passed out, unconscious; and in that The Diving Bell and the Butterfly reverie, laying in bed, the sun touches the drapes, touches the floor, leaves fingerprints on yr chest.
  10. Fever Ray – “If I Had A Heart” [buy]
    Probably the best show I saw this year; and yet not because I learned something more about Karin Dreijer, one half of The Knife; no, I left knowing less. I went into a concert-hall and when I came out, these songs had lost their dressings of fact and bio. They reached me even more deeply, directly, like a lover glimpsed in a nightmare.
  11. Tune-Yards – “HATARI” [buy]
    For us, this album came out last year – and “FIYA” was the fifth-best tune of the whole damn year. But 2009 was Merrill’s – celebrated, touring, signed to 4AD and stunning everyone silly. So I can’t let this go, can’t ignore a friend. Here: “HATARI”. A Montrealer who was neither born here nor dwells here, singing five different kinds of beautiful YES. Oui.
  12. The-Dream – “Rockin’ That Shit” [buy]
    Similar to Drake’s “Best I Ever Had”, “Rockin’ That Shit” takes a relatively seedy lyric – in this case, “she rockin’ that shit / like / oooh oooh” – and bathes it in beauty. Atlanta singer-producer The-Dream is 2009′s virtuoso of synth, laying the same blurry, dawny, shimmery sounds across dozens of tracks. He’s like a man with a briefcase full of sunsets. (Thanks, Tyler.)
  13. Bear In Heaven – “Lovesick Teenagers” [buy]
    Beast Rest Forth Mouth is an album of bled bytes, vomitted pixels, tears of pure #@&;(*xE%. Synths stream like paint from a spraygun, stars from Zeus's cock, the mantra from a monk's mouth. Drums like immutable physical laws; the facts which dictate everything else. (See: Bear In Heaven’s StG guest-post.)
  14. The xx- “Islands” [buy]
    A song that proves the value of restraint – the things you can do with two voices, bass, guitar, the snap of drums. Matte, white-hot, neither too little nor too much.
  15. Major Lazer t. Vybz Kartel – “Pon de Floor” [buy]
    For making us dance, it’s a time-honoured formula: utter discipline joined with demented bounce. Rarely do we hear something so magnificent, so dumb, so precise.
  16. Here We Go Magic – “Fangela” [buy]
    Luke Temple’s work as Here We Go Magic recalls the Beta Band, Paul Simon and Panda Bear, but its strength isn’t in its allusions: it’s in its plain musicality. “Fangela” is synth shuffle, dusty voice, and a melody that’s simply worth singing. (Previously.)
  17. Shakira – “She Wolf” [buy]
    A killer track, with Shakira trying at least three different modes: (1) the song’s happy principal flounce, Shakira a cyborg Dolores O’Riordan; (2) Shakira’s occasional lycanthropy, transforming into a breathy sex animal (naturally, this is the principal interest of the song’s video); (3) gentle, dewy Shakira – the one who quietly calls “awoo!” and skips along to “She Wolf”‘s closing strings. And no complaints here.
  18. Shelby Sifers – “Are You Devo? (Spirituals sweet remix)” [buy charity single]
    The Spirituals fill this beautiful song with bells, rings, swishes, claps, drums; they fill it with a lush pitterpat of glimmers, crashes, gleams. It’s a remix that sounds like a kingdom falling down the stairs, a chandelier in the wind, a jazz combo at sea, a heart spun silver. It’s the sound, I think, perhaps, of being in love.
  19. Andrew Cedermark – “Hard Livin” [buy]
    The trouble with most of this lo-fi shitgaze stuff, the stuff of 2009 for many kids, the Wavveses and Dum Dum Girlses et al, et alas, is that the sound is only rad if the songs are radder. Double-up a tune if you're dressing it in a lace of distortion. Times New Viking's "Devo & Wine" did that in 2007, brilliantly, and Cedermark does too – but this is a dusty, rusty song, more Neil Young than punk-rock; and god bless him for the cymbal crashing coda, the thing that kicks this from nostalgia into downright masterpiece.
  20. Young Galaxy – “Destroyer” [buy]
    My favourite track on Invisible Republic has continued to shift in the ice-flow, but we’re talking about singles here, stand-alone songs to come blooming from gramophones, and for now “Destroyer” receives the prize. It’s a thundering pop-song, arena-ready, craning and adamant. As Catherine and Steve sing that ringing chorus, the whole world seems to be collapsing. (No wait, not collapsing – lunging toward dust.)
  21. Burning Hearts – “I Lost My Colour Vision” [buy]
    Leave it to the Swedes Finns to take a girl-group shuffle and a basket of keyboards (plus a subtle nod to “Tainted Love”) and create something absolutely, absolutely, absolutely, absolutely terrific. Perfect lyrics, a beguiling voice, one watercolour earworm hook.
  22. Emperor X – “A Violent Translation of the Concordia Headscarp” [free download [008]]
    Emperor X is one of my favourite discoveries of all 2009. A lo-fi songwriter from Jacksonville, FL, he makes songs with collage, voice, mere fingers on strings. There are others who have experimented with similar sounds (The Microphones, Animal Collective, Francois Virot), but in the best instants of Blythe Archives II, Chad Matheny’s whirling heart-on-sleeve may be even better. These songs are short, bleated, wilder than they can at first seem; ripple flags, power mills, rend umbrellas.
  23. Cryptacize – “The Cage” [buy]
    Wrote Dan: I feel as if this song were left for me. Like Deerhoof (my roommate now?) was leaving the house, hair up in a huge beehive, dressed in venetian blinds and collectible quarters, headed out to a pre-choreographed dance party, well-rehearsed for weeks, and she thought, with one shoe on, eyes already on her coat, “Oh, Dan would like this.”
  24. The National – “So Far Around the Bend” [buy]
    The National’s usual melancholy, but here they are hanging with some of their rarer friends – clarinetists, flautists, string players. This in itself doesn’t matter, but the arrangement is gorgeou- wait, no, not “gorgeous”, “gorgeous” is ho-hum duh weak standard middle-Sufjan shit, the compliment lobbed by every loser who’s never listened to Shostakovich but who bought a Clogs album. No, “So Far Around The Bend” isn’t gorgeous: it’s clever, beautiful, precise as a knife-fight. It clocks in at just 3:43 and there’s no waste. And the words? They’re great, they’re prescient, they’re 2009: Praying for Pavement to get back together.
  25. Animal Collective – “My Girls” [buy]
    Merriweather Post Pavilion's shiniest coin – the moment when Animal Collective's maniacal insistence & timbric persistence get anchored to a sparkling set of hooks. (Dan, previously.)
  26. Sister Suvi – “Deadwood” [buy]
    I couldn’t get enough of this band. Now, they have dissolved. And so I listen to songs like this, “The Lot”, “Desolation”, “Lightning Train” and “Golden”. And I’m still hungry. We took our bikes to the quarry, threw on our walkmen, went down deep. In the gloom we listened to Billy Joel, Pavement, mined copper and zinc. We came out with our jean-jacket pockets full. We biked back to my place, stopping for dark beer and honeycomb toffee. We listened to the Velvet Underground’s Loaded and smiled and laughed, window open, crows weaving in murders outside my open window, and with our metals spread flat before us we hammered, hammered, hammered our armour until it was brass.
  27. Kid Cudi ft. Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Common & A-trak – "Make Her Say" [buy]
    I’m glad for the costumery (as pop-star uniform goes, it beats bellybutton rings), and I like some of the choruses, but I am still unsmitten with the whole cloth of Lady Gaga’s songs. Kid Cudi has shrugged off such meditations, stolen a few of Gaga’s best stutters, and tossed it into a marvelous, raunchy, rhyme-rich cut. So craftily put together, tight and slack at the same time.
  28. Flaming Lips – “Watching the Planets” [buy]
    It’s not that the Flaming Lips went back to their old sound – it’s that they went back to their old habit of being astonishing. For Embryonic, they set aside the last decade’s sour pop lullabies; instead they made something loose and cavernous, glimmering and secret. They rattled bones, chipped teeth, blew out the EQ. Here, with Karen O cooing down a wire, the Flaming Lips raze every dumb young idea to the ground.
  29. Rattail – “Green Go” [unreleased - website]
    Tumbling drums, blurry guitar and a voice that slurs & slips from red- to amber- to green-lit. The muddy production evokes all the nausea of new love and deep crush, but beyond the nautical sway it's a song with jokes & pluck – look out for the "underwater part". (See also Dan's fiction about this song.)
  30. Dirty Projectors and David Byrne – “Knotty Pine” [buy]
    Hear it as Dirty Pros without their deliberate esoterica, or as David Byrne with a brilliant new band; me I just hear that piano riff, like a sound out of MS Windows, my ramshackle heart going ‘ping’ as it reboots.
  31. Rihanna ft. The-Dream – “Hatin’ on the Club” [unreleased - website]
    When your boyfriend arrives, that asshole in sunglasses, you don’t go with him. You don’t go out. You fold your arms and mouth the words “No way.” Instead, as he watches you through the patio doors, you drink. … One by one you twist open the lids of the jars, your hold them up to him, and then with the sun nooning through to you you drink that sky up, drink it in front of him, in glinting gulps.
  32. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Hysteric” [buy]
    Maybe I overdosed on this song as the months wore on, but it’s the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ best since “Maps”, something burnished and polished and burnished again.
  33. Julie Doiron – “When Brakes Get Wet” [buy]
    Months ago, this song came out, and it’s short and perfect, and Dan wrote to me and said “it’s amazing” and I said yes it is; and I probably used all-caps; but we didn’t post about it because Julie’s label, Jagjaguwar, only lets you post certain “official release” mp3s, which is what most blogs do I guess; but we wanted to post about “When Brakes Get Wet”, and they said no; and Jagjaguwar is a wonderful label so we didn’t want to make them mad; even though they are so wrong about that mp3 thing; I mean did you read that the give-away mp3 is always, always albums’ best-selling song?; but anyway, now they say we can post about “When Brakes Get Wet”, and so here we are, and it’s short and beautiful, barely slipping on the rainy street, starsoaked, gentle, plain, perfect.
  34. Matias Aguayo – “Rollerskate (radio edit)” [buy]
    Cat made of grated ginger; chase her across town. Flit over fences, dive under gates, climb up ivy, slip into open windows. Steal silver necklaces, little diamonds, whole satchels full of catnip. We give lovers tiny kisses as they lay in their beds, breath rising &' falling, then me and my cat of grated ginger leap onto widowsill and out, skimming the clothesline, gleaming in the white sun.
  35. Wild Beasts – “All the King’s Men” [buy]
    They’re in like a pack of rats, handsome and gray. They weave between the glitter-balls, stalk up and down the bar. They slip a gift into every girl’s pocket; flower-petals, pills, heavy gold coins. They never whisper; they murmur just loud enough for the girls to lean in close. They have perfect teeth and eyes like little stones. Did you see that bloke? says Mary to Ella, tongue & teeth. He reminds me of stepping into a cold lake.
  36. Blackout Beach – “Cloud of Evil” [buy]
    “Cloud of Evil” is from one of the year’s very best (and quietest-kept) albums. Frog Eyes’ Carey Mercer has made something out of myth, reverb, black pools, velvet, electric guitar and treasure. Drowning dreams.
  37. Iron & Wine – "The Trapeze Swinger" [buy]
    I find it hard to write anything about “The Trapeze Singer” because Garrincha already wrote it better, en français, for la Blogotheque. I can write this: that I am no great fan of Iron & Wine, finding Sam Beam too often nice and too rarely scalding. I can write this: that this song would rank higher were it not for that damned wood-block. And I can write this: that some songs have the power to heal.
  38. Vic Chesnutt – “Flirted With You All My Life” [buy]
    Together with Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto and members of Silver Mt. Zion, Chesnutt writes a pretty, limber love-song to death. No, I am not ready, he sings, with the slightest note of apology. (Previously.)
  39. HIGHLIFE – “F KENYA RIP” [unreleased - MySpace]
    These hot highlife riffs are not right for this mountainous, temperate zone; they are too summered, glittering and seashell. But I don’t care, here in the Henriquez. … Here in my craft I will open the windows and let the cool air in – let “F KENYA RIP” go dancing out to the crags and glacial lakes, to the perked ears of antlered beasts.
  40. Withered Hand – “Hard On” [buy]
    “Hard On” is ultimately about erections, but mostly it’s about the intersection between yearning and doing … The chant keeps changing, with words like flashpaper. Listen to the way he sings man, good, could, knife, car, go, FM radio, guitars, Thin Lizzy, pen, John Updike, hard-on. Each one, carelessly cast, could start a housefire. Song originally written by Charles Latham.
  41. Yeasayer – “Tightrope” [buy]
    The first time I heard this song was in Yeasayer’s marvelous Take-Away Show (it’s the second video). There, its strum and bottle-clink becomes a vessel for time-travel, for walking backward along footprints. This image has stayed with me: “Tightrope” is the sound for turning back the calendar-page, uncrossing those dates, going back to before you found out it could all still go wrong.
  42. Smith Westerns – “Tonight” [buy]
    I imagine headlamped workers, in a potash mine or something, who suddenly hear music. It's below and ahead of them, on the other side of the rock. So they raise their pick-axes and pick-axe, chipping stone, hammering away, hefting electric drills and diamond-head bores. They delve deeper and deeper into the subterranean, chasing that cavernous sound, that deep well rhythm & blues, that lost hit. (Dan, previously.)
  43. Speech Debelle – “Spinnin’” [buy]
    On tracks like this, Speech Debelle shows she has enough gleam to go around; she’s gleaming so hard that her running shoes, her chewing gum, the creases between her knuckles gleam. Optimism that’s a little banal, sure, but ratatat drumstick whoop, yes yes, just the thing for here.
  44. Mirah – “The River” [buy]
    Slow and certain, this is the highlight of (A)Spera and proof of Mirah's renewal, the way she has grown new leaves & bark. "The River" starts soft, with a slow, grim flowering of woodwinds and feedback. It's a gentle thing, in shadow.
  45. Nurses – “Technicolor” [buy]
    Squawky, folky and psychedelic, but Nurses’ best trick is the way they recorded this tune. It’s careful without being aniseptic, intimate without being claustrophobic, open without being echoey. It’s the party with only six attendees that still, somehow, turns out great.
  46. Noah and the Whale – “Blue Skies” [buy]
    Noah and the Whale's wonderful, broken-hearted new album has been criticised for its lyrics, rife with cliché. But these critics seem to be forgetting that break-ups are just cliché upon cliché – an argument by the window and then walking home in the rain. There's nothing false about tired truths; and it's their familiarity that makes them sting.
  47. Cuddle Magic – “Expectations” [unreleased - site]
    This is a song by Cuddle Magic, dumb and handsome, clever and plain, beautiful as anything you decide you are yes going to treasure. Oh and it’s a break-up song with whistling.
  48. The Daredevil Christopher Wright – “Clouds” [buy]
    Daredevil Christopher Wright performed one of the best concerts I saw in 2009 – and certainly the most unexpectedly jaw-dropping one. A band of nobodies from Wisconsin, whipping us into thrills. A take on folk-rock that’s muscular, playful, rich with cymbal, handclap and three-part harmony. (Previously.)
  49. Ah Holly Faml’y – “All Unfolding” [buy]
    Something magic (and surprisingly robust) in the mix of Jeremy Faulkner’s geriatric vocals and his backing ladies’ sashay. All that baroque flutey stuff has almost got some swing. Hypnotic. (Thanks so much, Amy.)
  50. Rye Rye ft. MIA – “Bang” [buy]
    It ain't MIA that makes this song worthwhile – no it's that crazed relentless drum-beat, Rye Rye's sloppy & glowering rap. You're dead.
  51. Woods – “The Dark” [buy]
    On “The Dark”, Woods strike the perfect balance between slack and frenzy, making a pop song that seems concentrated and lazy at the same time.
  52. Slaraffenland – “Away” [buy]
    Like a roll of film running back and forth behind a projector’s lens. Handclaps, clarinet, horns, drums, piano, noise.
  53. Devendra Banhart – “Baby” [buy]
    When I listen to Devendra Banhart’s “Baby”, my mush falters, my defenses break down; I swoon. I love it and I can’t help it. No, Devendra is not singing about lending people teeth. Yes, he is sometimes on TMZ, arm-in-arm with a starlet. Maybe, his last x releases have sucked. And this is his major-label debut! But yes, no, maybe, oh oh oh: this is as self-evident as a cute kitty-cat sneezing. This is a gentle little cooing :)
  54. Cain & Abels – "My Life Is Easy" [buy t-shirt]
    A song that seems at first too diffuse, not-quite-there, until that moment in the second half when the clutter is just taken away (and slowly, slowly put back in). A filigree of electric guitar, drumroll after drumroll, the title called out before a fanfare of heartfelt rock’n’roll. (Thanks, Mark and Rochelle.)
  55. The Horrors – “Sea Within A Sea” [buy]
    A two-part suite, the second more exciting than the first; the world telescopes out, “Baba O’Riley” keyboards under Faris Badwan’s Joy Division groan; then the whole thing combusts, smouldering down to bare white ash.
  56. Kelis – “Acapella” [unreleased - website]
    A strange song for Kelis, hardly R&B, much closer to Massive Attack's "Teardrop" than to "Milkshake". (But still, uh, happy.) The chorus is the highlight, in word and melody; but heck, the whole track''s great. And not acapella.
  57. Bill Callahan – “The Breeze/My Baby Cries” [buy]
    Smog covers Kath Bloom, rendering the song in late-night slows. (Thanks for the reminder, D’Arcy.)
  58. Land of Talk – “Sixteen Asterisk” [buy]
    Liz Powell furiously doesn’t give a shit. (Previously.)
  59. Haunted House – “Sierra Trail” [buy]
    And there were bass on bass and whale-shark on keys and the lead singer was some kind of crayfish, wild-eyed and furious, raging at us through a seaweedy warble, speaking English backwards in a way that trawled our hearts. The band trundled over the same beautiful chords, part 80s chintz and part 00s noise, like an FM radio drowning in an aquarium, like Minneapolis getting eaten by a black hole, like all my longings getting tied to my old tape-decks.
  60. Swan Lake – “Paper Lace” [buy]
    Highlight of the latest team-up by Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, Blackout Beach’s Carey Mercer and Wolf Parade’s Spencer Krug; Bejar’s pal “Jackie” shows up, but this track was written by Krug (and revisited on this year’s Sunset Rubdown record). My favourite parts are the guitar solos, electric and acoustic, almost non-existent, like x-rays.
  61. Daniel Johnston – “Mind Movies” [buy]
    I can’t write about this better than Dan did, as he reflected on marshmallow islands.
  62. Bon Iver – “Blood Bank” [buy]
    Justin Vernon sets aside cryptic metaphor and instead he tells a story. It’s noisy, it’s quiet, it’s pretty; and as usual, I can’t tell if it’s happy or it’s sad.
  63. Blame Ringo – “Garble Arch” [buy]
    In a year where everyone pulled out their old new Beatles albums, it makes me very happy to find three minutes of plain, kindly pop that’s nearly as good as the stuff they used to make.
  64. Mount Eerie – “Ancient Questions” [buy]
    Earlier this year, I wrote about a different song from Wind’s Poem (an excellent album). The reason I didn’t write about this song, which is better, is that it didn’t sound better when I listened to it as an MP3. It was only later, hearing “Ancient Questions” on vinyl, that I discovered what I had missed. This MP3 can’t express it – the electric guitar groove is too deep in the mix, the nothingness too high. So, uh, go buy the LP.
  65. Nneka – “Heartbeat” [buy]
    A wonderful song, but Nneka also sings it wonderfully – makes the chorus’s stumbling drums second to her own voice, makes her own verse second to that h-h-h-h-heartbeat.
  66. The Antlers – “Two” [buy]
    A song not about death but about dying. Horrible, gorgeous, far too forceful to be miserable. (Previously.)
  67. Ola Podrida – “Donkey” [buy]
    David Wingo strums and sings louder & louder, and yet it's not because of mere urgency, the wish to communicate that he cares. He has to yell because there is howling. He has to raise his voice over roars, whirlwinds, tides. This doom is murmured in creak & drone.
  68. Discovery – “It’s Not My Fault (It’s My Fault)” [buy]
    Dancefloor-smooved, with kevlar snaps and testtube bells … The song’s wry, faux-frustration reminds me of a series of cold drinks on a hot terrasse, julep after julep, and every time my girlfriend brings me another I just spill it out on the sidewalk, watch the caterpillars crawl across the icecubes.
  69. Elfin Saddle – “The Bringer” [buy]
    Ramshackle and kind, Elfin Saddle might be the eeriest band in Montreal. … Hear it all in “The Bringer”‘s grim, sorcerous crescendo: slow promises, Appalachian groans, memories of old, weird Japan. There’s none of night’s comfort, here. There’s nowhere to hide. This is the fearsome creep of daylight.
  70. Patrick Watson – “Big Bird In A Small Cage” [buy]
    Watson in a duet with Katie Moore (he hoped for Dolly Parton). It’s lovely as a bowl of fruit.
  71. Bombadil – “Sad Birthday” [buy]
    A happy song about a sad birthday – sunburst and lime-wedge, summer folk and afternoon pop. (Previously.)
  72. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – “Natural Light” [buy]
    In this song of just 2min24, Casiotone doesn’t give us enough time to fall in love with the keyboard riff. Wait, wait, wait – yes he does. Yes, I’m already in love with it.
  73. Abe Vigoda – “Wild Heart” [buy]
    Abe Vigoda cover Stevie Nicks’ backstage version of “Wild Heart”. It’s unwise, it’s doomed. As Dan wrote: I sold everything to get this many chips, sold my bike, my computer, even my winter boots. I take a free drink and head to the high-rollers’ hallway, my pant cuffs wet with melting snow … I introduce myself to everyone, which I shouldn’t do, I shouldn’t do that. … It takes about ten minutes but I get all the chips on the table, and a crowd has gathered by this point. “He’s awesome,” I heard one lady say, which I try not to think about. I push my chips to the center of the table, somewhere among the numbers, and I suddenly wonder how long it would take to have a portrait of myself painted, how could I sit still for that long? The dealer waves his hand over the chips like he’s casting some kind of spell, and with a wink, “no more bets.”
  74. Emmy the Great – “MIA” [buy]
    Don’t listen to this song because the chorus talks about M.I.A. – listen to it for the weird little cuckoo pipes. I mean the “LOO-la, loo-LA” at the corners of the lines, notes whose instrument I can’t trace, sounds that seem at first like sweet Hello!s, like signposts of twee, and then gradually change into something else. Because this gentle song is ultimately a song about things being wrong, wrong as in not-right, and the weird little cuckoo pipes are the only musical marker of this. They turn in place and become very mildly discordant, just one step off, and to me it's the perfect sound for nostalgia soured, & dreams' sudden sunset.
  75. Sleigh Bells – “Crown on the Ground” [unreleased - MySpace]
    Sleigh Bells call this a demo, say they’re going to re-record it. This better not mean they are gonna clean it up. Because right now the distortion crunches like solid demolition rainbow, the synths blast like Care Bear stare, the whole thing wallops like an unfiltered solar flare to the heart. Uh.. (Thanks, Neva.)

Finally – 75 is an arbitrary cut-off. 2009 had wagon-loads of great songs, heaps and stacks of them, by everyone from Andrew Bird to Jason Derulo. Said the Gramophone spent the year writing about them, and writing about older songs too, old secrets kept in boxes. If you’re new to the site, please come again (or subscribe)! We update almost every weekday, penning tales about the songs we love. Thanks for reading, sorry for the rushed writing, sorry for any broken links, and happy, happy, happy holidaze.

Create a Secure Password with an MP3 or Web Site [Passwords]

The CyberNet News blog posts an interesting take on creating secure passwords you can actually remember, or at least remember how to retrieve—by posting a favorite web site, or an MP3 file, into an MD5 hash generator.

CyberNet splits up the method into two different takes, both utilizing the MD5 codes normally used to verify a downloaded file’s integrity. Entering a favorite, or, more securely, strange and unique web site into an online MD5 hash generator gives you a seriously long string of characters, uniquely linked to that URL. Grab the first eight characters from the string, and you’ve got a fairly unique password to use. Using this method for every site isn’t advisable, though, as anyone who figures out your methodology can grab all your passwords. Combine it with Gina’s method of a secure password plus a unique suffix, though, and you’ve got a system that only mind-readers could really crack.

A second technique uses the same MD5 hash characters, but uses an MP3 file as its unique generator. Assuming very few people know of your secret love for Starship, it’s also a fairly safe way to get a secure password, but also have a backup means of retrieving it. Hit the link for details and step-by-step tips on both methods.






Behringer USB Audio Interface

This digital audio converter is marketed as a high-quality and inexpensive way to digitize old cassettes and LPs. I’m sure it’s excellent for those tasks, too, but I’ve found it particularly useful for making audio recordings on a laptop without a pro-tools budget.

behringer2sm.jpg

Basically, it's a less noisy way of taking sound from a mic and recording it onto a computer. Recording on an 1/8-inch-line input can be pretty noisy, especially on a laptop. This converter cuts out much of the noise, and makes a usable recording. I recently recorded some narration for a voiceover on a video I’m putting together, and it works pretty well. It's also USB-powered, so no need for batteries or an AC power cord. There are more expensive versions that do a slightly better job, but I find this product does a great job for the money.

— Drew Reed

Behringer UFO202 U-Phono High-Quality USB Audio Interface with Built-In Phono Preamp
$30

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Behringer

Set a Default Text Style in Gmail [Gmail Labs]

If you wanted to change the font, size, or color of your messages in Gmail, you normally have to do so on a mail-by-mail basis. Not so anymore, if you enable a new default text styling option from the Labs.

After enabling the new feature in the Labs menu from Gmail’s settings, head back to the “General” tab and look for the new text box. Set your font, size, color, and other options there, and they’ll stick from message to message. Most of us probably don’t need 18-point purple Garamond text, but, then again, a few subtle changes might help your own missives stand out in your message view.

New in Labs: Default text styling [Official Gmail Blog]






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