2009-03-27

Inspirational

I like to dabble in music. Not that I have any talent, but I like to fiddle around and carve out new sounds on my synthesizer. It is very relaxing to just record a few bars of MIDI, clean up the timing, loop it and go to work on the knobs and dials. I can do that for hours on end when I have the house to myself.

A while ago I came across an interview with Alessandro Cortini where he talks about the EAR synthesizer. Unlike most musicians, he actually likes to talk about the hardware and he has deep technical knowledge about what goes on inside the modules.

Anyway, I went back to check out the other videos and I came across this little gem of a track. It is a short piece of music performed on a Buchla 200e (I wasn't even aware that Buchla were still in business).



Now, it may not be your cup of tea, but I get excited about that sort of thing. To me this is not only a very nice piece of music, but it triggers the analytical parts of my brain. Having some whiff of an idea about what goes on with the sound doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the music -- it just adds another, highly enjoyable dimension to it.

Alessandro Cortini's website is at:
www.blindoldfreak.com

2009-03-07

QR codes and invoices.

While paying my bills today it struck me that if my bills had QR-codes with the key data for an invoice printed on the invoice, I would not have to go through the annoying exercise of having to type in long sequences of meaningless numbers when paying my bills. I want QR-codes on my invoices so I can just scan them. Quickly.

I usually log in to do online banking about twice a month. For the most part I log in to pay my bills. Paying bills is, to put it mildly, a pain in the neck. There's all these good intentions to move things along to the 21'st century and let my bills show up in the online bank, but in practice, the majority of bills and invoices I get are in paper form.

Which means I have to type the data manually into my computer and make sure I don't do any mistakes. This is immensely annoying and time-consuming.

In Norway bills usually have a few key pieces of information that you are interested in. The most important being the account number, the KID (customer id) , amount, due date and a description of what the amount is for. Not a lot of data then, if you approach it reasonably and without going overboard too much.

Perhaps a solution would be to convince those who make invoicing software to encode this information into a QR-code and print the information on the invoice? There are probably standards for doing this already, using various encoding schemes. I see some of my invoices have little blobs of data on them, but they are apparently not using QR codes.

The attraction of QR codes is that software for interpreting (and generating) them is widely deployed. For instance, my mobile phone comes with support for interpreting QR codes right out of the box. It should not be too hard to hack up something that can be hooked up to a webcam for reading these codes on my computer. Or even to pay my bills from my mobile phone (although that would require banks and telcos to play along).

Another thing I have observed is that my mobile phone (which uses the camera to scan QR-codes and bar codes) does a much better job at scanning QR-codes than bar codes. It is much faster and seems much more reliable.



As for how you format the data, I am sure there are standardized ways to represent invoice data in a compact, easy to parse form, but at this point, just getting companies that make software for sending out invoices print some data, in whatever form would be a big win. If everything is just key-value pairs it should be possible to figure out something that is at least workable. You can always have some way of detecting the format. For instance if the message starts with some alphanumeric format identifier.

If I point my mobile at the screen and scan the sample image on the right, my phone actually manages to read it in under a second despite the fact that I resized the image.

I am looking for a pragmatic solution. It doesn't need to solve all possible problems, it just needs to make entering invoices/bills into my online banking app a bit less of a hassle. Even an application that would let me cut and paste account numbers and the long sequences of numbers representing KID would be a big win here.

Further down the road the obvious thing would be to utilize the fact that mobile phones can read QR-codes really easily and integrate this into banking systems so you can pay, or at least enter, your bills into your online banking system easily.


So if you make an invoicing system and you are reading this: how about starting to experiment with printing QR codes on your invoices? It would be a great value-add for your customers and if you can make it stick, you will save people like me a lot of time and frustration.

2009-03-01

Spotify goodness.

Yesterday I created a Spotify-account and it was clear to me instantly that this was something I like.

Of course, this leads to introspection: I've spent some time today trying to figure out exactly why I like Spotify. Here are some initial theories:
  • It is instant. No, really, the thing is quick. Searching for stuff takes no time and playing tracks is pretty much instant. Of course, I do have a rather good internet connection, but this thing has exceptionally good response time.
  • It isn't one of those shit web services. There's a real client. A real piece of software that runs on my workstation. Similar web services will always be second rate. At least with the browser paradigms we have today.
  • It is sensibly hypertext'y. Do a search to get started then click around a bit and you'll quickly find something that fits your current mood.
  • Needs minimal manual interference. Find something you like and let it just play while you do other things. Doesn't need constant attention.
  • Reasonable sound quality.
If the for-pay version has some reasonable social mechanisms I'll definitively sign up for that. NOK 99 per month is absolutely acceptable. I'll have to check that out.

I wonder if they are going to make a client that lets you buy tracks so I can have them on my iPod as well. A streaming client for the iPod would be nice as well. Not that I think Apple are going to allow that, but you never know.

Streaming content rather than downloading and archiving just became a bit more viable as a way to consume content.