Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tech Column: Serendipity

by Bill Adler

Over the weekend I had an intense need for clothing. I've had this need for a while, actually, but I realized that I couldn't fulfill my shopping needs online. Put more directly: I'd be an idiot to try and shop for clothes entirely online.

So it was off to the mall to shop for clothes for me -- the first time I've done that since I bought my very comfy, very favorite black jeans years ago. Because nobody wants to hear the details of my mall shopping excursion, I'll just sum it up by saying that I now have more than just black jeans.

While I was at the mall I walked by a Teavana, a tea store. Ordinarily, I'm a coffee drinker, but for a long while I've been on a quest for tea that I like. I've sampled teas here and there, from herbal to Lipton's; from white to black and every color in between. Teavana was offering free samples and I decided to try one: a blend of Samurai Chai Mate and White Ayurvedic Tea. I liked it, so I tried another sample. Now I'm a Teavana addict, with my favorite tea being a blend of Acai Matetina Mate and Sakura Allure Green tea. Tea blends. Who knew?

Serendipity, letting random chance rule your day, is great both in the real world and on the Internet, too.

Here are three of my favorite services for Internet randomness. The first is StumbleUpon, Just tell StumbleUpon what interests you in a general way (cats or dogs, pizza or nouvelle American cuisine, opera or hip hop), then click on the "stumble" button and you'll be transported to a random site. You can add additional interests, as well as fine-tune your Stumbleupon
experience by giving websites thumbs up or thumbs down. It's fun and addictive.

There are dozens of magazine and blog aggregators available for Android and iOS devices including Flipboard, Google's Currents, and Pulse. All of these share a similar functionality: You select the publications you want to read and the app displays articles from them. The same old stuff, just repackaged (removing my hand from in front of my mouth now, as I suppress a yawn). I much prefer the reader Zite to any traditional tablet or smartphone reader app. Zite,, works a little like StumbleUpon: Tell it generally what you're interested in, be it linguistics, puzzles, psychology, or health. Zite will scour the Internet for articles that might interest you, drawing from a wide range of publications. As with StumbleUpon, Zite adapts to your interests, giving you more a more finely tuned, personalized magazine the more you use it.

Pandora is the music equivalent of StumbleUpon and Zite. Using Pandora,, you select a channel based on an artist or song you like, and then Pandora will seek out new songs and new musicians and artists for you. Pandora creates stations for you; you can set up as many stations --Antonio Carlos Jobim, Norwegian folk-metal, Lady Gaga-- as you'd like and switch between them on the fly. Pandora will discover new music for you better than any FM radio station ever could.

Fun is sometimes not knowing where you'll end up.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," He tweets at @billadler.

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