hit, git and split

In Rolling Stone’s current piece on the best music blogs of 2008 (update: link corrected), three out of the four winners which do MP3s are using Yahoo! Media Player. That’s a pretty good score, and it shows that the media player has found a place in the world. I feel great. It’s like seeing your kid graduate from college and get a decent job. To see that the software has grown up, or at least reached its decadent 20s, means the completion of a long project.

Early work on the software now known as Yahoo! Media Player began in fall of 2004 as version 2.0 of Webjay. My vision was to move outwards from Webjay’s centralized form, and rather than have a site for authoring playlists have any old web authoring tool on any old site be able to create playlists using HTML. The difference would be ease of use — rather than go to Webjay, it would come to you. When Webjay got acquired by Yahoo! this unreleased software was picked up and began a new life as a project codenamed “goose.” During my first year at Yahoo!, while Webjay proper was going down, the new version was coming up, and right around the same time that we officially shuttered webjay.org we also bootstrapped a good development team for goose.

The first goose release went live on July 31, 2007 in the most modest way I could arrange — as a player for 30 second samples in an easter egg page within Yahoo!’s massively trafficked music site. The power of an AJAX-based player was evident in a subtle way, though, in that it supported Yahoo’s subscription service in off-the-shelf Internet Explorer on Windows. The subscription service wasn’t an impressive product, but the underlying code was truly hair-raising and couldn’t have been done with a traditional Flash MP3 player.

The next major iteration was in January of 2008, when we released a version of the player which could handle third-party content and run in third-party pages. It was a dramatically more open piece of work and we got great buzz right out of the gate, with articles all over blogdom and a warm reception from users. From there we picked up the pace on the release schedule quite a lot, turning the crank on a new rev a month later. Along with user interface changes based on feedback, we introduced the ability to open XSPF playlists that weren’t available to straight AJAX or Flash apps, as well as an integrated screen scraper that could turn almost any page on the web into a playlist just by linking to it. A month later we did the last rev of the first version of the player. This had many fit and finish improvements, auto-attribution for MP3 hosts being deep-linked, a buy button with an affiliate program for web publishers, and a “Find in page” button to help you associate a track with the place in the page that it came from. The first major version was complete. We went into quiet mode to work on version 2.0, which will be out in alpha form very soon and will have significant improvements.

And with that, my part in this is done. There is an excellent team to run the show, the product has good support on the business side of Yahoo!, there is a healthy user and developer community, and the software has good market share. It’s time for me to let go and move on, and so today is my last official day at Yahoo!

I don’t know exactly what I’ll do next, though I do have general ideas about areas to explore. What I do know is that tomorrow morning I’ll sit down to start work on whatever comes next.

Thanks for everything, y’all. See you on the flip side.

a good sign for racial politics

In a comment on the racial politics post, Mike Linksvayer writes:

The percentage of marriages in the US that are black/white has increased by something like a factor of three since 1970. See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18090277/

Interracial marriages are still a small fraction of the total, but growth shows no sign of abating.

And indeed, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18090277/ is a story titled “After 40 years, interracial marriage flourishing”, which gives the beautiful news that Since landmark 1967 ruling, unions have moved from radical to everyday:

The number of interracial marriages has soared; for example, black-white marriages increased from 65,000 in 1970 to 422,000 in 2005, according to Census Bureau figures.

Factoring in all racial combinations, Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld calculates that more than 7 percent of America’s 59 million married couples in 2005 were interracial, compared to less than 2 percent in 1970.

What a positive sign! I feel a lot more hopeful about the situation. And 7% isn’t just just 3.5 times greater than before, it’s a number that compounds over the generations. I’d consider this a litmus test for acceptable racial politics — when most black or white Americans whose family has been here more than a couple generations are mixed black and white, things are not so fucked up.

racial politics

It’s Martin Luther King’s birthday so I’ve been thinking about racial politics.

For the past couple of years I have been exploring public domain music via archives of sheet music online, and this has turned into an extended dumpster dive into American history. I spend a lot of time with primary historical sources, and whenever I find anything to do with the ethnicity we currently call “black” it is almost guaranteed to be nasty. “Whites” were cruel on a staggering scale.

The cruelty was casual and ubiquitous. Comedy and blackface were inseparable. Artwork virtually always shows “blacks” as caricatures of stupidity and laziness. Song lyrics dipped into nigger and coon references and moved on without noticing.

And at the same time, I can’t believe that “whites” were unaware. The only adults who don’t know that people are people are sociopaths. I think that there were hundreds of millions of people — “whites” — who knew of their complicity in evil.

And many “whites” did become aware. The abolitionist movement was a revolt of conscience. Some artwork by “whites” depicting “blacks” is not caricature. Some writing is not racist. The “whites” involved surely did things that would make our jaws drop, but they deserve credit for doing the right thing.

In a way I have stopped feeling like I belong to a distinct ethnicity which is either “white” or “black.” The ethnicities have lived together as neighbors, workmates, friends, enemies, lovers, business partners, customers, and family for hundreds of years. Our current culture has long since become a hybrid. Most of us are in a subculture which clearly identifies with one ethnicity or the other, but this is an illusion. Our music, art, and language are unified.

That’s why I have been putting “black” and “white” in scare quotes. I’m going to stop doing that now, though, because it’s annoying.

However there is also evidence of a big divide — our continuing physical differences. Blacks and whites look different. For that to be true there must be pressures against interbreeding which have remained intact throughout our long history together. These pressures are still there. They mean that we don’t hang out together, so we don’t mate, so we don’t make interracial babies.

I despair. I can’t stand to be part of yet another generation which accomplished nothing, but I can’t imagine anything I could do.

The civil rights movement was recent. It did made a big difference. I just don’t think that there has been progress since then. We have a new plateau that is slightly better. What will happen in the long run? Historical-scale changes are too slow to see.

parlor guitar

I picked up a parlor guitar dating from the 1890s. It is in completely playable condition, even though it’s on the order of 120 years old.

The price was $750, which is incredible given that an electric from the 1960s goes for a couple thousand.

The plan is to incorporate this into my live set, along with my electric guitar and my 1920s L3. The music for the set ranges from 1800-1900. All together these materials will tell a story about the early development of American music and the prehistory of blues, jazz, country and rock.

See the entire photoset for a detailed look.