About three years after my friend Sara recommended it, I gave Last.fm a real gosh-darn honest-to-goodness try. And I love it. My dilema is that I have no music-playing apparatus in my house. I used to have a couple of old Sony speakers hooked up to my terribly slow HD-DVD player -- hit "open" about 15 minutes before you plan to start viewing a movie -- but it wasn't a satisfactory setup. You've got to change CDs every 40-60 minutes, which means you have to pick a new album to listen to. I'm not that decisive. I can't decide what to listen to next. Ok, how about an iPod dock? In theory, that would be great. You can create playlists and you don't have to wait for the HD-DVD tray to open, you don't have to change disks or be decisive. Problem -- you either have to create playlists, which sounds a lot like being decisive -- or you can just push "random". Problem there -- dwelling on my iPod are many things besides songs. Chapters from Atlas Shrugged, a relationship self-help disk, and numerous sound clips recorded by me on various trips. Also, you might want some upbeat cleaning music. So you start with the Pixies, "Debaser". Then the next song comes on, and it's Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now". Last, I tried the FM radio. Commercials, poor music, static. You understand the problem.
Last.fm is the solution. Type in the name of a band you like, hit play, and you're done. Last will typically start with a song from the band you choose, and go from there, in ever-widening musical circles, while staying more or less in the same genre/mood level. No commercials. The only two slight annoyances: after an hour or so of inactivity, Last.fm stops playing and asks if anyone is home. Problem #2, the playlists don't seem that dynamic: typing in, say, Guster, tends to give you the same list of songs in approximately the same order. This may just be a fluke since the sample size is very small (only the second time I've tried "Guster" as a band seed). On the ne plus ultra side, Last.fm doesn't seem to have the hiccups associated with streaming from, say, KXCI or other local/regional stations.
So hook up those Harmon-Kardon Soundsticks to your underutilized laptop, and you've got a cheap home stereo, ready to go. No need to drop $800 on a new stereo. Those HK's are pretty good, too, and will be perfectly adequate, even in a large room, if you're used to hearing your music on a 4-speaker Subaru system.