Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Android song identifier testing: Shazam vs. SoundHound

Test Purpose:

Song ID software for Android devices, head-to-head competition. Both programs allow five IDs a month for free, and cost $4-5 for the full version with unlimited IDs thereafter. (Shazam came with a 7-day trial of the unlimited tagging version, actually.) Both programs will be tested with the same five songs, the same section of each song played for as long as the program requires for identification.

The Android device used will be a Samsung Acclaim, on US Cellular's EVDO (3G speed) network. Voice signal strength is good, 4-5 bars, and the data signal should be good. The Acclaim is running Android 2.1, and is plugged in on its charger for optimal power.

The songs will be played on a generic Dell office computer, the kind that has just one speaker... somewhere in there... this will simulate the poor listening conditions of being in the car or the supermarket or some other awkward situation where identifying a song can be challenging. (The quality of the sound isn't really all that terrible, it's just far from optimal.) The computer runs a 3GHz Pentium 4 with 1GB of RAM, Windows XP Professional Service Pack 3, and Windows Media Player 11. Volume all the way up.

The songs:

GOODNIGHT TECHNOLOGIST by The Main Drag. The drummer for this independent Boston rock band works for Harmonix, who make the Rockband games. "A Jagged Gorgeous Winter," featured in Rock Band 2, might have been too easy. This is the last track on the album "Yours As Fast As Mine". Identification will begin 2:40 into the song. Watch this song performed in Rock Band 2 on YouTube.

JUPITER by Holst from The Planets. I decided to include a classical piece, and this was the first I came to that didn't make me think "a-ha! I know that one!". I don't believe that this is necessarily obscure, but it's not really common, either, at least not in the sense that Beethoven's Fifth (or even Ninth) are. Or "1812 Overture", or "Ride of the Valkyries" or any of that cool stuff. Identification will begin 5:20 into the song. Listen to this song on YouTube.

LOVE ME OR HATE ME by Lady Sovereign. This is a remix featuring Missy Elliot, and I'm going to play her part of the song. I like Lady Sovereign, mostly for her accent, I think, but her songs are fun... her album's pretty easy to hate, and I have to be in a certain mood to listen to it, and I can only listen to a couple songs. I don't think her album or singles were ever very popular, but I expect this should be the least challenging for the software to ID. Identification will begin 0:33 into the song. Listen to this song on YouTube.

MELODY (SALVA NOS VERSION) by Yuki Kajiura. This song was on one of the Noir soundtracks, and is one of the five studio versions of her song "Salva Nos". A song sang in Latin, from Japan, should provide quite a challenge. Identification will begin 1:20 into the song. Listen to this song on YouTube.

STILL ALIVE by Jonathan Coulton from the Portal game, only this is a .mid of that song that somebody played on a MIDI keyboard. This promises to be challenging because its similarity to the original varies. (This is the equivalent of the "hum-it challenge" that people say I should do for SoundHound. I was gonna hum the synth part of Europe's "The Final Countdown" but changed my mind.) Identification will begin at the very start of the song. Listen to this song on YouTube.

I would like to point out that while I may look like a real bastard for picking such obscure songs, the fans of each of these programs make some pretty outlandish claims about their favorite in the Android market -- and when I proposed a few of these songs on an Android forum, I was told by both sides that these choices were "too easy" for their favorite app. Let's see how they fared, shall we?

The test:

Song: Goodnight Technologist
Shazam ID: No match
Notes: none
SoundHound ID: No match
Notes: none

Song: Jupiter
Shazam ID: No match
Notes: Gave up several times immediately after the song started, but it let me retry until it actually did its "Listening... Sending... Matching..." gig.
SoundHound ID: No match
Notes: none

Song: Love Me or Hate Me (Missy Elliot Remix)
Shazam ID: Love Me or Hate Me
Notes: It didn't react at all to Missy Elliot's singing, and only tagged the song after Lady Sovereign came on with the chorus. Also, it tags it as the original, not the remix, and it got the album wrong.
SoundHound ID: Love Me or Hate Me
Notes: Also tags it as the original, but it didn't wait until Lady Sovereign came on to make the tag, so it actually recognized Missy Elliot's singing as the Lady Sovereign song, so technically, it did tag the remix.

Song: Melody
Shazam ID: No match
Notes: It came to the conclusion that it didn't recognize this song a lot faster than the first three tests.
SoundHound ID: Salva Nos
Notes: It tagged the third or fourth version of Yuki Kajiura's epic as the fifth version, I assume based on the lyrics.

Song: Still Alive (MIDI)
Shazam ID: No match
Notes: Refused several times to try this song -- must have told it to retry a dozen times.
SoundHound ID: No match
Notes: None

Shazam final thoughts: This thing is a real piece of work. Half the time it doesn't even attempt to tag the song, it just says no. But at least it doesn't force close or anything, one click makes it try again... and again... and again. Since I have unlimited use of this thing, I'm going to throw some more popular tunes at it. This is not officially part of the test, I just want to find its limits... because I can. Played Europe's "The Final Countdown", and after refusing a dozen times, it showed me the correct artist and title, but it got the album (and album cover) wrong. OK, "Crazy B***h" by Buckcherry, it didn't refuse, and got all the facts right, so far as I can tell. It similarly got "Prayer of the Refugee" by Rise Against. And it recognized what is probably Yuki Kajiura's most popular song, "Key of the Twilight", but did not know the album name (of the version I have, or the soundtrack the original comes from -- .hack//SIGN). This app is kinda pretty, but it likes to vibrate a lot. (Ringer is on full.) It vibrates randomly as it listens, and it vibrates when it's got something (or nothing) for you.

SoundHound final thoughts: SH is a little nicer than Shazam in presentation; my only gripe is that I like Shazam's blue theme better than SH's yellow. SH's pie chart is nicer as well, as it starts from the 12 o'clock position rather than the 1 o'clock (WTF's up with that?) and it finishes its test before the pie chart fills, as opposed to well after. And SH never flat-out refused to make a match. Lastly, it shows a volume meter that shows how well it can hear the source, so you can adjust your positioning if you can. SH doesn't give an unlimited trial, but it doesn't count its failures against the user, so I have 3 more IDs left before I have to wait 30 days (or until October, however it does it), so I'm going to throw some songs at it. I'm going to be harder on it, because it has already proven itself to be more resourceful than Shazam. It recognized "Cry Little Sister" by Seasons After almost immediately, a song I haven't heard of, but my wife got. It recognized "Sing Along" by the Blue Man Group featuring Dave Matthews (though it didn't identify Dave Matthews as being involved). It failed to recognize an early demo by Evanescence called "You" that was the subject of some controversy when some fans built a hoax around it, saying the band didn't want people to hear the song, or some such mess (which was later proven false). But that was a cheap shot at the program, I would have had to have been very impressed if it identified that. Lastly, it identified "Atonement" by Parabelle, an independent lite rock group fronted by former Evans Blue vocalist Kevin Matisyn. Also, after the fifth successful tag, it prompted me to pay for the full version, or continue using the lite version, which would be reloaded with five more credits "next month" (in four days? Or 30? 31?), but until then, could be manually searched for lyrics.

Conclusion: Shazam can identify popular songs, but it utterly fails to recognize anything remotely obscure. It does give you seven days of unlimited tagging for free, so you have plenty of time to play around with it and see if it's worth your money. SoundHound is a little more resourceful, and has a nicer interface, although Shazam gives you more things to do once you've ID'd a song. Emailing, Tweeting, or Facebook'ing the information, there's a whole list. SoundHound pretty much links to the lyrics, if they're in its database, and YouTube, though the rest may have been buried in the menus. I cannot wholeheartedly recommend either app, and would go so far as to say that many of the posts on the Android market in the comments for these apps in support of the other one are false, and possibly planted by people with something to gain from the other one being purchased. Neither of these apps are nearly as good as people say they are. Then again, their phone's mic could have better noise cancellation, or perhaps other conditions were different. But mine were more than fair considering the magic some will say these apps can work. Based on what I have seen, if someone told me they were walking down the streets of Manhattan, and saw a guy whistling a tune across the street, and they held up their phone, and either Shazam or SoundHound identified it as Frank Sinatra, I wouldn't believe them even if their tongue were made of solid gold and notarized. If I buy one, it's going to be SoundHound, just because it's more resourceful. But it's not going to be because I think it's worth the money; Googling the lyrics has always worked for me. It's going to be because US Cellular gives customers who buy Android phones, $20 gift cards for the Android Market. They don't work for anything else -- I tried. If, by November, when my gift card expires, I may buy SoundHound. No promises though.

PS -- I rated each app on the Android market a number of stars equivalent to the number of songs it got right. I show up there as Nathan or Dark Reality, I forget which, but I mention the test, and will update my comments with a bit.ly to this post.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Does Ridley Scott hate Robin Hood?

According to IMDb, the only Robin Hood movie Ridley Scott enjoyed was Robin Hood: Men in Tights (source). Not the 1973 Disney cartoon. Not the 1938 Adventures of... with Errol Flynn. And not even the 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which, in my opinion, was the best of the lot. I'm also fond of the other two. Of course, I like Men in Tights as well, it's a great parody. Anyway, why do I care that some d-bag has taken a crap all over a great legend that has spawned many good movies? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that he tried to make one of his own this year.

Here's the thing: Robin Hood is not supposed to be "great". It's a fun story about an archery nerd who fights the law and gets the girl. The rest is just details, and is probably not well known and/or made up, as each Robin Hood film deviates from the others on these points. The big difference is that the Disney cartoon, Men in Tights, and the 2010 version have a Prince John, a brother to Richard the Lionheart, who seeks the throne. Other details are more minor.

When it comes to criticizing Prince of Thieves, it always comes down to Kevin Costner not having a British accent. That is the only flaw in that film, and frankly, it's so damn good, it's hard to notice. Not to mention the great cast supporting him. It looked good, it felt good, and aside from Mel Brooks' parody, it really didn't need to be messed with, as Kevin Reynolds had created, pretty much, the perfect Robin Hood film. With or without the directors cut that came later (which only added to the Sheriff's backstory, though, the more Alan Rickman the better).

So where did Ridley Scott's version go wrong? Well, right from the beginning, you know this movie has no soul. It's dark and dreary and everything kinda looks the same. It's like they really wanted you to know that this movie takes place nearly a thousand years ago. Because the color TV colorized the world. Yep. And thank God for HDTV, we really needed those extra dots, the world was so blurry before. Yeah. I mean "Amen".

But is looking like crap enough to tarnish a movie? Not if it's excellent. Which this isn't, but giving it a pass -- okay, King Richard is done with the Crusades (a holy war to get the Infidels -- the Muslims -- out of Jerusalem) so he's sacking all the European countries on his way back, specifically France -- wait, what? This has to do with Robin Hood how? Oh, and then instead of staying back and commanding the armies, he's earning his Lionheart title, he's out there playing catch with arrows, blocking them with his shield, making an ass out of himself. Spoiler: He misses one. Catches him right in the throat, too. So right in the middle of battle, he asks for, and receives, wine. Under fire of arrows, his trusted men who didn't have his back before are right there with the wine. I don't think a single one gets shot. Oh, and the guy who shot the King is bragging about it. France and England/the UK have been allies longer, historically, than they've been enemies. Do you really want to be known as the guy who killed the King of England? No, you don't. So shut the f**k up and keep shooting. At most you just wanna say "I got one!" and then go about getting another one.

Oh wait. It gets better. Maid Marian lives on a farm (except it's Marion now, because Ridley's cool like that) and some little kids in masks come and steal all her grain. From a barn two miles from where she's sleeping. But she gets woken up, and she fires a flaming arrow two feet from where one is standing -- and two feet from the barn, which is covered in hay and straw. Good thing she's as good a shot as Robin Hood. She should have fired a second one to split the first one to show how awesome she is.

All the while the movie throws a bunch of characters at you. They may or may not be important. They may or may not be named. An hour later... oh and he's not Robin of Locksley anymore, he's Robin Longstride now. And he meets a fallen knight named Robert Loxley -- yeah, "Locksley" was too much for Mr. Scott -- and takes his name. You would think this would be an issue, that people who knew Robert Loxley would know that Robin Longstride isn't him -- but not only do all but Loxley's wife (Marian) and father not notice, but his father insists he continues to pose as his son, and gives him carte blanche at Marian. Marion, sorry. Marion plays along begrudgingly at first, but then starts to fall in love with him. Because he's played by Russel Crowe, and Loxley was played by some nobody. (I don't know who played him.)

That's just the first half of this 150-minute monstrosity, but that's about when I stopped watching. I usually don't quit movies, but this was bad.

OK, by contrast, my favorite Robin Hood movie...

* Looks great. Who'd have guessed that in real life, medieval England looks beautiful?

* The whole King Richard stuff is backstory. All of it. Because it doesn't f**king matter! King Richard shows up at the end, played by God... I mean Sean Connery... and it's awesome. He's not a pompous ass who gets shot for being a dick.

* Maid Marian's an actual lady. She can take care of herself, more or less, but she's not an expert archer.

* The story is simple. You can follow what's going on. It gets out of the way of the awesomeness. It doesn't feel like a long movie. You get to know the characters very soon after they're introduced (except, perhaps, for Wolf -- the boy chased by the Sheriff's men early on). Oh, and in addition to Sean Connery, it's got Morgan Freeman in it -- as a badass with a scimitar! Also as previously mentioned, Alan Rickman as the Sheriff. That's Professor Snape to you younger kids, and the bad guy in Die Hard to you older folks. Well, that'd be my generation, but damn, I forgot his name.

I give it a solid 2/10 for some decent archery and the potential to be a cool medieval film, and for actors that probably tried real hard to make the best of a crappy movie. Maybe I'll force myself to finish it at some point, but I'm not looking forward to it.

Why haven't I wrote?

Why haven't I wrote? That's a very good question, one which is likely to be pondered for some time. That is, assuming I ever become a famous author and every little nuance of my life is pored over by ravid fangirls. Or fanboys, but I prefer fangirls, if you catch my drift.

Was it because I attempted and failed NaNoWriMo (the, write-50,000-words-in-the-30-days-of-November challenge)? Nope... circumstances, actually, failed me. I would have finished, if A) I didn't have to babysit newbies at work, and B) my motherboard didn't fry at home. So, no way to write.

The truth is much simpler. To quote an often-wiser man than I, my brother... "fuck it". I just felt no desire to post. I had plenty to say, just chose to express it in other ways.

There's really nothing else to be said, which is why I've taken the rare action of disallowing comments. That will not be the norm.