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Pomplamoose: Donate Books to Kids, Get a Christmas Album

YouTube phenoms Pomplamoose have released a Christmas album -- but it's not for sale. The only way to get the album is to donate a book to the Richmond Book Drive. The deal is this: you buy a book for kids in Richmond, California public schools, and Pomplamoose gives you their Christmas album. (To be clear, it's a 5-song EP, but still.) They explain the details in the video below, after performing one of the songs.

If you're participating, may I recommend buying Looking For Alaska or Paper Towns by John Green, former mental_floss blogger? Both are on the list of books requested by the Richmond public schools. But the best part is, the book choice is very broad -- there are many, many pages of books on the list -- another favorite of mine is I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. (I recommend switching to the "compact" view on Amazon to see more books on one page.) Here are some more details on the program, from the Pomplamoose's mouth:

A little bit about the schools receiving books: -Lovonya DeJean Middle School -- averaged 26% proficient or advanced on English language arts state tests in 2009-2010 school year (State avg. for grades served = 55%) -Leadership Public Schools - Richmond - averaged 26% proficient or advanced on English language arts state tests in 2009-2010 school year (State avg. for grades served = 47%) -Kennedy High School -- averaged 21% proficient or advanced on English language arts state tests in 2009-2010 school year (State avg. for grades served = 47%) -Richmond High - averaged 20% proficient or advanced on English language arts state tests in 2009-2010 school year (State avg. for grades served = 47%)

There are Richmond Book Drive Ambassadors at each of the school sites who will work diligently to ensure that the books are cared for and used as effectively as possible to inculcate a love of reading among Richmond's terrific young people.

This isn't the first time Pomplamoose have organized a holiday giving drive. Last year, fans gave 138 goats, 166 ducks, and 107 chickens, plus various supplies to World Vision in order to get a single MP3. This year, on offer are 5 MP3s. Worth a book? I think so.

(Note: you can also donate used books, but you don't get a free album for that.)

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New AI-Driven Music System Analyzes Tracks for Perfect Playlists
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Whether you're planning a bachelorette party or recovering from a breakup, a well-curated playlist makes all the difference. If you don't have time to pick the perfect songs manually, services that use the AI-driven system Sonic Style may be able to figure out exactly what you have in mind based on your request.

According to Fast Company, Sonic Style is the new music-categorizing service from the media and entertainment data provider Gracenote. There are plenty of music algorithms out there already, but Sonic Style works a little differently. Rather than listing the entire discography of a certain artist under a single genre, the AI analyzes individual tracks. It considers factors like the artist's typical genre and the era the song was recorded in, as well as qualities it can only learn through listening, like tempo and mood. Based on nearly 450 descriptors, it creates a super-accurate "style profile" of the track that makes it easier for listeners to find it when searching for the perfect song to fit an occasion.

Playlists that use data from Sonic Style feel like they were made by a person with a deep knowledge of music rather than a machine. That's thanks to the system's advanced neural network. It also recognizes artists that don't fit neatly into one genre, or that have evolved into a completely different music style over their careers. Any service—including music-streaming platforms and voice-activated assistants—that uses Gracenote's data will be able to take advantage of the new technology.

With AI at your disposal, all you have to do as the listener is decide on a style of music. Here are some ideas to get you started if you want a playlist for productivity.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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