Free albums from Amazon

Philip Glass album, which I learned about via Twitter.

To my surprise, I discovered 140 other free MP3 albums on the site. I had no idea.

I’m a big fan of international/roots music, so I was thrilled to find many free albums in this genre. These are all sampler compilations, so it’s hit and miss—but there are some good songs to be discovered. I’m not too surprised about that—the point of sampler music is to get you to buy albums from the featured label, so it’s in their interest to include a solid cross-sample of their best offerings.

Back in the day (just a few years ago, really), I frequently picked up low-cost or free sampler albums from labels in music stores. These days, I tend to get my music online from two primary sources: iTunes and Mondomix (before Mondomix, I frequented the now-defunct Calabash, which was bought out by Mondomix). I haven’t bought much from Amazon.

Here’s my point: iTunes doesn’t offer much in terms of free ‘sample’ music beyond the ‘Free Single of the Week.’ Calabash used to offer a lot of free singles. Mondomix does not, but they do offer streaming radio mixes and a decent podcast (it’s in French, by the way). There are not many online sources that offer a place to pick up free sample compilations anymore. Amazon, it turns out, has some of the best free offerings I’ve come across. Who knew.

At any rate, here’s what I think are some of the best of the lot from Amazon’s current free ‘International’ collection:

Pressure Sounds sampler: solid reggae and dub tracks.
Rotana sampler: great collection of Middle Eastern sounds from a huge label.
Saavn sampler: Bollywood music…you can’t go wrong with Bollywood tracks.
Anana sampler: interesting collection of music from Israel.
Epsa world music sampler: ‘tango & folklore’ from Argentina.
Putamayo sampler: decent sampler of music from around the globe.
Turkish hits: nice variety of Turkish artists.

A few other albums of note that I picked up from other collections:

– A surprisingly good, wide-ranging compilation of Baroque music.
– A great collection of old music (and I mean old…Medieval and Renaissance period sounds). If you like this sort of thing, by the way, I highly recommend Anonymous 4.
– An album with five solid blues-folk tracks from influential American artists on the Vanguard label (e.g. Odetta, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot).

Oh, and if you’re a Mojo Nixon fan (I’m not), head to the free album store now. Looks like pretty much all of Mojo’s stuff if currently free.

Whatever you’re into, the Amazon’s free MP3 collection is worth a browse.

Note: In case you’re wondering, this site is not sponsored in any way by Just thought I’d share what I found there.

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NaNoWriMo: Write a Novel in 30 days

National Novel Writing Month kicks off for its tenth year. Entrants (you could be one of them!) commit to completing a 50,000-word novel in one month, completing the effort by midnight on Nov. 30. The rules are simple: start your oeuvre from scratch, meet the the minimum novel length, and submit your entry at the end of the month. That’s about all there is to it.

What a great idea. The writing window for the event is ludicrously short by design. Rest assured that your novel will probably suck, and take solace in the fact that most other entries will equally suck. Who cares? And that’s the point: it’s OK. Just write. A deadline imposed by an outside force may help you to finally start that great work of fiction lurking in the shadows of your mind. Focus on quantity, worry about the quality later. Starting the writing process is often the hardest part, and this yearly event is a clever, fun way to get you started.

So, if you’re up to the challenge, why not try out a couple of writing-focused Mac tools? Here’s a couple of good deals tied to the event:

Scrivener. Download the trial version of this excellent writing tool for a special extended period that runs through Dec. 7 (longer than the usual 30-day trial period). Use Scrivener to research, organize, and write your breakthrough novel. If you reach your 50,000-word NaNoWriMo goal, you can buy Scrivener for 50 percent off the regular price ($40). If you don’t make your goal, but still want to buy Scrivener, take advantage of a 20 percent discount by entering the discount code ‘NANOWRIMO’ in the coupon text field in their online store. Good deal. I’ve used Scrivener since July 2007, and I’m quite fond of it. It’s a great creative writing tool, and adapts well to a variety of research and writing tasks.

Storyist. Here’s another novel-focused app that aims to serve your research, word processing, and storyboarding needs. If you want to buy a copy to help you through NaNoWriMo, you can get 25 percent off the purchase price of the boxed ($79) or download ($59) version of the app by entering the coupon code ‘NANOWRIMO’ in the coupon text field in their online store. If you want to try out Storyist for the duration of NaNoWriMo before you buy, send Storyist a message to get a trial copy that’ll keep working through the first week in December. If you decide to join the NaNoWriMo challenge and can make it to San Francisco for the kickoff event, you can get a free copy of the app. Lastly, Storyist is giving away two Kindles with $50 gift cards for those who raise the most money for the event — similar to a walk-a-thon, you can line up sponsors for your NaNoWriMo effort via if you’re so inclined. Proceeds go to creative writing programs around the world.

NetNewsWire Alternatives

This week, I decided to seek out alternatives to NetNewsWire, the popular feed reader from NewsGator.

My disenchantment with NetNewsWire began soon after NewsGator updated the app, switching from a private syncing service to Google Reader at the end of August. I didn’t have any trouble migrating my feeds to Google Reader, as some users did. I also didn’t mind that the updated version of the NNW desktop client displayed unobtrusive ads. Hey, it’s free (A paid version is in the works to get rid of the ad; a paid, ad-free version for iPhone is already available).

My problem with NetNewsWire is all about the iPhone app. Before NNW switched to Google Reader, my iPhone app was reliable, quick, and pleasant to use. After I upgraded to the newest version of the free NNW iPhone app, syncing began to take much longer and, more importantly, ceased to function reliably. Sometimes it would sync, sometimes it would not. It drove me crazy. Often, it would appear to sync correctly, but selecting a feed would result in a blank screen or (even more annoying) a blank screen with an embedded advertisement. I put up with this spotty performance for weeks (hoping it would get better, hoping it would be upgraded) before deciding to try something else.

I’m not saying that the NetNewsWire iPhone app is terrible. Based on user comments I’ve read, many people seem to be happy with it. I will say that, in it’s present version, I can’t use it. A reliable feed reader on my iPhone is important to me. This frustration led me to consider other options. Since there are many, many front ends to Google Reader for the iPhone, why not shop around? It was an easy decision. And since I decided to try out something new for my iPhone, I also decided to try out other desktop clients. It was sort of a reverse halo effect.

After sifting through a plethora of reviews for iPhone RSS readers, I decided to go with Byline (from Phantom Fish, current sale price: $3.99). I’m pleased with my choice. The interface is clean and simple. There are many customization settings, the best of which is that I can choose to cache from 25 to 200 feeds for offline viewing (great for subway commuting). I can also set it to cache items only when I’m using Wi-Fi, which is a handy option given I’m on a slow Edge network. Another nice touch is that I can choose to cache Web pages linked to feed posts. I can also read my feeds in landscape mode. It’s worth a look. The one glaring item I’m missing is the ability to mark a folder of feed items (or all items) as ‘read.’ As far as I can tell, I can only mark individual feed items as ‘read.’ A minor annoyance. According to the developer notes in the iTunes store, a new version is due out very shortly which promises to be a ‘major update.’ I’m looking forward to it.

As for a desktop replacement for NetNewsWire, the vote is still out. I’m currently testing two options: Gruml and feedly.

Gruml, currently in late stages of Beta, looks and operates much like NetNewsWire. The main difference is that Gruml offers more features. It allows me to send an article link from my feeds direct to a variety of social media sites. Or I can send an article direct to MarsEdit, which I find very handy (more blog tool integration is forthcoming). I can also post to Instapaper, my favorite iPhone ‘read it later’ app. More, I can share items and add notes to articles (options currently unavailable with NetNewsWire). So far, I like it. It’s easy on the eyes and is a quick, efficient way to get through a lot of feeds. It’s much easier to look at than Google Reader.

Feedly, on the other hand, is something completely different. It’s a free browser-based aggregation service (available on the Mac for FireFox or Safari) that presents your articles in a pleasant, customizable magazine style. It offers strong social media integration and fancy algorithm-based filtering/recommendations that purportedly improve over time based on reading habits. It’s also highly customizable. I’ve tried these kind of news readers before and never really cared for them, but this one is pretty slick. I vastly prefer it to the iGoogle service. I’m giving it a go. We’ll see if I like it as much a month or so from now.

Meanwhile, I’ve left NetNewsWire behind. I don’t miss it. If you have a suggestion for a killer feed reader for the desktop or iPhone, I’d love to hear about it.