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Vulture Bytes: Five Tech Treats for the Pop Culture Obsessive

Vulture Bytes is a new weekly column on entertainment technology, featuring hardware, software, apps and websites for pop culture junkies. This week’s picks include an iPhone app for musical parenting, a remote control that cuddles you back, and more.

For five years, we’ve pruned and groomed our Pandora stations to find that magical, improbable nexus of soul, grunge, electronica, alt-country, and pop-rock. It was unsuccessful. But then we discovered, a site that offered a sense of musical superiority without us having to do any work. It’s the thinking hipster’s Pandora. Every song plays alongside album art, pictures of the band, or bits of trivia. There’s a social gaming element, too, with sidequests to encourage you to discover new music in case thesixtyone’s main feed is too similar to your tastes. And now all of this comes to the iPad in a new app called Aweditorium. It lives up to its prefix. Price: Free.
If fashion has taught us anything, it’s that the future is just the past, reconfigured. That’s beginning to be the case for gadgets, too. The Boxee Box puts the TV you’ve been watching on the Internet back on the TV (by using the Internet) – a circuitous route, but one that saves you from commercials and opens up a trove of web content. It’s a little set-top box that that ports all sorts of video in over Wi-Fi. Netflix streaming is there, as is, Hulu Plus, and Pandora. In a shrewd move, the remote comes with a keyboard on its backside, so you don’t have to deal with navigating an on-screen keyboard. Price: $199 (If you’re not sure whether it’s worth paying for a full, download the software to your computer for free and get a feel for how it works.)
On the Web, as in life, the best things are always the most questionably legal. The latest example: ivi TV, a program that allows you to watch live TV for a small fee every month without actually having a TV. You get the New York feeds of all the major networks, with some Seattle and Los Angeles stations mixed in. Ivi TV is so convinced they’re legal that they’re preemptively suing the networks. When you’re going to end up in court anyway, we suppose it doesn’t matter how you get there. In the meantime, the video is smooth, it’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and it’s TV. Glorious TV. Price: Free for 30 days, then $4.99 per month. It’s up to you to cancel after the trial if you don’t want to be charged.
New parents who have outsourced your parental duties to your iPhone: You are forgiven. What’s important is that you make the iPhone as good a parent as possible. Good parents are concerned about their childrens’ future, namely, whether they’re going to grow up to be a producer of pop culture, or a consumer of it. Toddlers are still too young to put in front of a piano, and those Fischer Price xylophones regrettably went out of style in the last decade. But the new version of the mScribble app comes with a toddler mode that allows your Baby Gaga to begin composing her own symphony. Music hops out of the phone with every touch of the glass, and as she drags her finger she’ll adjust the chords, melody, and rhythm. If she hates the app, she’s clearly destined to a life of reading pop culture sites. Which, though we’re admittedly biased, isn’t so bad. Price: $0.99
Last Friday night, when we stayed at home watching a Millionaire Matchmaker marathon, we felt alone. Those rich misogynists were finding (or at least buying) love, yet us sensible, perfectly attractive but socially anxious people were home, cradling a pillow in one hand and a remote in the other. This was not ideal. Luckily, Brookstone has simplified things with their Pillow Remote Control. No longer will we have to juggle the two things that make us most comfortable. Button names are sewed onto the pillow using what’s surely the finest thread. And the actual technology is tucked away inside, allowing for as much comfort as a pillow that’s also a remote control possibly can. Price: $29.95 (Batteries and a dating life are not included.)
Vulture Bytes: Five Tech Treats for the Pop Culture Obsessive