Making Pandora.com for the Birds–Literally

If you’re like me, you consider the radio airwaves to be mostly a wasteland.  I don’t mean all radio stations, of course — there are some nice oases in that wasteland – but they often can be hard to find.  Especially on weekends, when most AM stations play reruns or discuss topics of marginal interest, while the FM stations seem to play more commercials than music, talk shows or whatever their format calls for.  I can remember some aggravating times on a Saturday or Sunday when I drove on an errand for fifteen minutes or more, and if I turned on the car radio, I got a constant barrage of commercials for most, if not all of the trip.  I also remember a joke about a station running a contest where you win if they play less than four commercials in a break, and you call to let them know about their oversight; is any station still doing that?

Fortunately in the twenty-first century, there are cures for that, making it possible to have your favorite music with you wherever you go.  First, there are MP3 players.  The Zune I got in 2008 still works quite well; too bad Microsoft stopped making them.  Second, there is satellite radio, which takes away most of the limitations imposed by geography.  I have always enjoyed listening to an XM/Sirius radio.  Usually it happened when I rented a car with one; maybe one of these days I’ll buy one to use around the house.  I can’t listen to it in the workplace, though, because my co-workers would get the wrong idea (ever notice that the reggae station is called “The Joint?”).

Third, there is streaming audio over the Internet.  As long as you’re in a place with a fast Internet connection, you can have your music with you.  I have had a free account with Pandora.com for a couple of years; today I signed up for an account with iHeart Radio, picked eight iHeart stations that I like, and installed apps for my new Google tablet to handle both websites.  Unfortunately, I did some of it while eating lunch in the kitchen, so our crazy green parrot, Brin-Brin, got to see what I was doing.  Over the past week, he seemed to figure out that the tablet is a lot like the laptops we used to entertain him, with videos of other parrots (the picture below is five years old, but still relevant).  Consequently he got excited, and started climbing around and screaming.

Last spring, when we had an Egyptian friend named Ilaria staying in the house, Leive told me that Brin-Brin got upset at the Arabic music she liked to play, but he listened and clicked when Leive played Hebrew songs.  The clicks mean he likes what he hears; he does it the most when Leive talks nice to him.  Along that line, while I had the Pandora app playing on the tablet, I decided that some songs from the late Israeli star Ofra Haza would calm him down.  I was also thinking of a news story I read a week ago, where two African Grey parrots were subjected to several genres of music.  Both of them seemed to like songs with vocals and a rhythm they could follow, while disliking instrumentals with a “house” beat, so if you’re trying to entertain a bird, anything by The Timewriter (my favorite electronic artist) is right out!

For those who are not familiar with Pandora.com, to listen you enter the name of an artist in the website’s search engine, and if the site has music from that artist, it creates a “station” that lets you listen to that artist, every time you log into Pandora.  With each song you have the option of telling Pandora if you like it or not; songs that get a thumbs-up will be played again in the near future, while songs that get a thumbs-down won’t be played anymore.  In that way the station will be customized to suit your tastes.  For variety, you can add more artists to be played with the first one, and Pandora will throw in songs from artists like the ones you have chosen already.

So what was Brin-Brin’s reaction to the Ofra Haza station I just created?  The station itself was rather odd; out of six or seven songs, only the last one I let it play was from Ofra Haza herself.  Most of the others were pop hits from the 1980s.  Brin-Brin screamed so much at two of them that I quickly hit the thumbs-down button to hurry on to something else.  On the other hand, he clicked loudly to Sarah Brightman, the Eurythmics, and Sarah McLachlan.  I think I detect a trend in Brin-Brin’s musical tastes – this silly bird seems to like 1980s-era female pop stars!

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