"The only blog we have to fear is blog itself."

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Strange Bedfellows 

Man, this election year is certainly turning out to be an odd one.

To wit:
A watchdog group says it will file a complaint with federal election officials, accusing two conservative organizations of illegally helping Ralph Nader's presidential campaign, possibly with support from President Bush's re-election campaign.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington planned to file its complaint Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission. It says the Oregon Family Council and Citizens for a Sound Economy violated election laws last week by telephoning people and urging them to help Nader get on Oregon's ballot in November.
But, as weird election years go, can it top 1992?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Quick Science Roundup 

A British firm which specializes in recreating aromas for museums and businesses was asked by the British Museum to simulate the T. Rex's bad breath. Great quote:
Requests for nasty smells come in quite a lot, requiring some unpleasant research.

"I've had otter poo on my desk," said [company director Frank] Knight, who created the odor for a zoo's nature trail, alongside the smell of jaguar urine and rotting flesh.
Meanwhile, an Argentinian physicist has studied why we react to musical compositions and how it relates to our cognitive relationship with literature:
Musical notes are strung together in the same patterns as words in a piece of literature, according to an Argentinian physicist.

His analysis also reveals a key difference between tonal compositions, which are written in a particular key, and atonal ones, which are not. This sheds light on why many people find it so hard to make sense of atonal works.
Speaking of shedding light, folks at the University of Tokyo have been working on refining a method of simulates invisibility (or, at least, tranparency):
This idea is very simple. If you project background image onto the masked object, you can observe the masked object just as if it were virtually transparent.
There's a much better explanation of the system in this pdf brochure. Once this can be done inside a garment with fiber optics, then "cloaks of invisibility" will be reality (which is both cool and frightening).

And finally:
A team of astronomers have found a colossal black hole so ancient, they're not sure how it had enough time to grow to its current size, about 10 billion times the mass of the Sun.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Summer Music Festival 

Got done earlier getting to the airport the last artist participating in my station's summer music festival (I was playing chauffeur). Then, sleep (after about 8 total hours in three days)...

A full review later, but here was the lineup: Ontario's Cowboy Junkies, Boston singer/songwriter Catie Curtis, the splendidly dynamic Angela McCluskey, Irish singer/songwriter Mark Geary, Brooklyn band The Damnwells, fellow New Yorker Jesse Malin, and special pinch-hitter Mark Erelli.

Thursday, June 24, 2004


Don't you just love Google?

I hate to gush over a website, but sometimes one just can't help it. Google news is cool enough, and their definition lookup feature (type "define: [word]" using whatever word or phrase you want in the main search box sometime) can be handy as well.

But you can also use Google as a calculator. Sure, having +, -, *, or / functions available on a fast website with no popups and unintrusive ads is nifty. But power and square root functions? Factorials? Sine, cosine, and tangent?

I have little practical use for these, but it's damn good to know the feature's available.

Actually, I might actually use the conversion feature:
The in operator is used to specify what units you want used to express the answer. Put the word in followed by the name of a unit at the end of your expression. This works well for unit conversions such as: 5 kilometers in miles.
You can also convert to roman numerals (alas, I don't think it can convert roman to arabic numerals) or between time expressions (like what 450 seconds expressed in minutes is).


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

"Manually Pressing a Button" 

Recently, I wrote about a portable music player which requires a fingerprint scan to play each song. I also previously mentioned the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) asking the FCC to mandate antipiracy protections in digital radio.

Both of these tales have a common thread, as it turns out. The RIAA's press release about their digital radio ("high definition" or "HD" radio) recommendations to the FCC has this to say:
The RIAA's brief makes it clear that there is no intent to prevent consumers from enjoying "HD radio" as they would traditional analog radio: manually pressing a button to start and stop recording a song. Instead, the group argues for rules that would prohibit "cherry-picking" or the unfettered redistribution of the music.
So that's what it all boils down to?

Non-commercial, home-use copying of music is okay, as long the practice doesn't enjoy any modern conveniences. No automation of processes. Only the manual "pressing a button to start and stop recording" is acceptable.

Do these people have any idea in which direction technology is heading?

And he's afraid of Americans? 

From USA Today:
Halfway through his third song at a Norwegian music festival, an object came flying out of the crowd and hit David Bowie in the eye.


Bowie wasn't seriously injured at Friday's Norwegian Wood Festival in Oslo. He backed off the runway, hunched over, and was assisted by his set crew.

Within moments, he was facing the crowd of 7,500. Swearing at the unknown culprit, Bowie said he only had one good eye. The other eye had been damaged in a childhood fight.

"Lucky you hit the bad one," Bowie said, demanding to know who threw the lollipop. No one standing in the cold and drizzle came forward.

The 50 Greatest Left-Handed Bassists of All-Time 

1. Paul McCartney

Umm... I guess it's a 50-way tie.

I guess I didn't pick the right criteria for my list. But lately, every music publication and pundit has been churning out endless lists using the following formula: "The [number] [Top/Best/Greatest] [subject] of [all/chronological limiter/geographical limiter]."

And people eat them up. As the U.K.'s The Observer Music Monthly pointed out while introducing a list of the The 100 greatest British albums:
Lists. Don't you just hate them. And yet, don't you just love them. Hate them because they're all wrong, they're biased, they're fixed, they miss too much out, they're in the wrong order, they're utterly arbitrary, they try to cage musical beasts that should be allowed to run free in our imaginations without the indignity of being branded with numbers. And whatever comes top is usually going to knock you speechless.
It's a phenomenon both interesting and enraging. At least this Observer list cites their methodology, something that is usually hidden from view.

Anyway, here's their top ten:
  1. The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
  2. Revolver, The Beatles
  3. London Calling, The Clash
  4. Astral Weeks, Van Morrison
  5. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles
  6. The Beatles (The White Album), The Beatles
  7. Sticky Fingers, The Rolling Stones
  8. Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones
  9. Blue Lines, Massive Attack
  10. Metal Box, P.I.L.
In the words of Linda Richman, "Discuss!"


Lollapalooza cancelled:
The Lollapalooza music festival tour has been canceled because of poor ticket sales, according to its Web site.

The tour, featuring Morrissey, Sonic Youth and The Flaming Lips, had been set to begin July 14 in Auburn, Wash., and continue through August, including stops in Toronto, New York, Atlanta and Dallas.
Buried at the end of a New York Times piece comes this generational shot-across-the-bow:
Seth Hurwitz, an independent promoter in Washington who booked Lollapalooza into the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., said that there was waning interest in aging alternative rock acts like the ones on the Lollapalooza tour.

"How well is Morrissey going to do in the Midwest?" he said. "I wouldn't venture to guess. The problem is that there is just not a really large interest in alternative music. What was called alternative in the 90's was exploding with something new, with Pearl Jam and Nirvana. It was exciting stuff."

Mr. Hurwitz said many of his concerts, including those by younger acts like Evanescence and Three Doors Down, were selling well.

"They tried to pull together Morrissey and Sonic Youth," he said, on an alternative bill. "But there are not enough people who care about it."

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

I Sing the Author Disgruntled! 

Author Bradbury steamed at ‘Fahrenheit’ film name
Ray Bradbury is demanding an apology from filmmaker Michael Moore for lifting the title from his classic science-fiction novel “Fahrenheit 451” without permission and wants the new documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” to be renamed.

“He didn’t ask my permission,” Bradbury, 83, said Friday. “That’s not his novel, that’s not his title, so he shouldn’t have done it.”


Bradbury said he would rather avoid litigation and is “hoping to settle this as two gentlemen, if he’ll shake hands with me and give me back my book and title.”
Ummmm, this seem a little hard to swallow from the man who cribbed from Shakespeare for the title of his 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. To wit, from Act IV, Scene I of Macbeth:
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Bradbury can't exactly claim, therefore, to be unfamiliar with the powerful literary tool called allusion.

Sure, Bradbury's books still enjoy copyright protection and Shakespeare didn't, but c'mon! I'm not a lawyer, but I don't see how this could possibly be fodder for litigation (see the "Pretty Woman" Supreme Court parody decision and do a page search for "parody's humor").

Friday, June 18, 2004

Copyright Issues Update 

According to CNET:
A forthcoming bill in the U.S. Senate would, if passed, dramatically reshape copyright law by prohibiting file-trading networks and some consumer electronics devices on the grounds that they could be used for unlawful purposes.

The proposal, called the Induce Act, says "whoever intentionally induces any violation" of copyright law would be legally liable for those violations, a prohibition that would effectively ban file-swapping networks like Kazaa and Morpheus. In the draft bill seen by CNET News.com, inducement is defined as "aids, abets, induces, counsels, or procures" and can be punished with civil fines and, in some circumstances, lengthy prison terms.
This would not only include a filesharing service, but potentially the CD ripping software I use to copy my own CD collection onto my home LAN mp3 server and portable devices.

By the way, the proponents of this bill are doing it in the name of protecting children. The act name stands for "Inducement Devolves into Unlawful Child Exploitation Act" and intends wave the banner of attacking child pornography as a beard for protecting copyright industries' interests (just as a past Billboard editorial urged). Which is almost tacitly admitting that, these days, copyright infringement is mainstream enough that such a bill can't succeed on its own merits.

But tinkering with laws aimed at "inducement" of copyright infringement isn't enough. The RIAA now wants to pre-emptively strike against stream-ripping:
Digital radio, which transforms traditional over-the-air broadcasts into the same kind of bits and bytes used in Internet transmissions, promises to boost the audio quality of FM signals to that of a CD. But it also holds out the promise of transforming radio listening in the same way that TiVo hard drive-based recorders have changed TV--by providing powerful recording and playback options.

The new medium has attracted the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, which recently began a proceeding that could end up laying out content protection rules and other regulations for it.

On Wednesday, the Recording Industry Association of America asked the FCC for new antipiracy protections that would prevent listeners from archiving songs without paying for them--and from trading recorded songs online. The RIAA and musicians' trade groups are worried that consumers might one day forgo buying albums or songs from iTunes-like services in favor of recording CD-quality songs off digital radio services.
Which is about as bold of an attempt to rollback the Betamax case as one can get without explicitly stating so.

On the other hand, read this great speech by the EFF's Cory Doctorow given to a Microsoft audience. He breaks down why Digitial Rights Management (DRM) is bad for companies, consumer, artists, as well as society at large. An excerpt:
DRM systems are broken in minutes, sometimes days. Rarely, months. It's not because the people who think them up are stupid. It's not because the people who break them are smart. It's not because there's a flaw in the algorithms. At the end of the day, all DRM systems share a common vulnerability: they provide their attackers with ciphertext, the cipher and the key. At this point, the secret isn't a secret anymore.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Brain Scanning 

I heard the most alarming documentary on the BBC's Discovery program (or, actually, "programme") last night. The show should be available on demand until next week's show on 6/22.

It was about the advances that science has made in brain scanning techniques: being able to see in real time what parts of the brain are being used to perform tasks. While these developments, no doubt, have many worthwhile applications, there's also almost unlimited capacity for Orwellian nightmare.

One of the interviews was with Paul Glimcher of NYU's Center for Neural Science, who says:
It's clear that it's just a few years off that we'll be able to make measurements in brain scanners which will allow us to predict the actions of people in the real world. We already in my laboratory can make measurements that tell us, for example, how risk-averse an individual is. How much they're willing to take chances and how much they're not. Now that's scary, because it's of course information your insurance company would love to have.
Scary, indeed. According to Stanford Magazine,
Classic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides a high-resolution view into the body, usually to illuminate structural defects, tumors or injuries. But in recent years, refinements in MRI scanning have allowed researchers to monitor identifiable changes in the brain in response to stimuli or during directed thoughts. With this technique, called functional MRI (fMRI), "we are able to make measurements of brain function in a way we could not do before," says [Stanford neuroethicist Judy] Illes....

Illes, who has surveyed neuroscientists’ use of fMRI, wrote in the March 2003 Nature Neuroscience: "Our analysis shows a steady expansion of studies with evident social and policy implications, including studies of human cooperation and competition, brain differences in violent people and genetic influences on brain structure and function." Complex behaviors and emotions—such as fear, lying, decision making, self-monitoring, moral dilemmas, and assessments of rewards and punishment—are all in play. So far, she suggests, society has given little thought to how these technologies and their volatile payloads will be used.
It gets worse. According to the BBC, neuroscientist Britton Chance of the University of Pennsylvania has been using high school volunteers to "perform various tests while Dr. Chance looks for the brain activity characteristic of telling a lie."

This research is receiving funding from the Department of Homeland Security.

"We need something; we have a country under stress" due to fears of terrorism, Chance told USA Today last fall. "It might be fixed by finding out what people are thinking about."

Yeesh. Perhaps this website isn't so much of a joke after all.

Comedy Can Change the World 

Muslim comedians laugh at racism:
The "Allah Made Me Funny" comedy show is an attempt by a group of American Muslim comics to counter the negative stereotypes and attitudes about Muslims and Arabs by poking fun at themselves, their communities and the prejudices they face.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Brush Up on that High School French 

Being bilingual 'protects brain':
Being fluent in two languages may help to keep the brain sharper for longer, a study suggests.
Oh, great. With Alzheimer's in my family, I'd better dig out those old "voici le cahier" workbooks from high school.

Pay For Your Own Annoyance! 

In today's uncertain world, it's nice to know that you can depend upon becoming annoyed. And, increasingly, you can foot the bill for it!

On the fax front:
Congress took the first step Tuesday to make it easier for businesses to send unsolicited faxes, holding a hearing on a proposed bill that would let companies send faxes to their customers without getting explicit permission.

The bill, known as the Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2004, would pre-empt a Federal Communications Commission rule that requires businesses to get a signed permission letter before sending a fax to customers. The FCC rule, which the agency delayed for 16 months, goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2005.
And on the wild & woolly frontier of cell phones:
Security experts have discovered what is believed to be the world's first computer "worm" aimed at mobile phones.

The worm does not appear to pose an immediate threat to cellphone users, but it suggests that mobile phones are much more vulnerable to virus-writers and hackers than previously thought.


Yam Alert III 

The latest YamStats: 4 sprouts. Tallest: almost 13".

YamDiary: The top half of the previously tallest sprout began falling over and then died, leaving tallest honors to another sprout. Sprouts seem to grow toward the light. Flipping the yam around seems to lead to a reverse bending of the sprout stalk towards sunlight, as well as to considerable sprout dizziness.


Dateline Friedrichshafen:

German company Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik is now selling newly made Zeppelins.
Makers of the revived Zeppelin airship delivered their first helium-filled craft to a commercial user Saturday, a Japanese company that plans to use the 12-seat craft for sightseeing trips and advertising.

The granddaughter of the original airship's inventor, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, was on hand as Japan's Nippon Airship Corporation took delivery of the 247-foot ship, destined for sightseeing and advertising flights in Japan and a starring role at the 2005 world's fair in the city of Aichi.
I like how clearly the article mentions the helium used in the airship, instead of the tragedy-inducing hydrogen. The company has a brief history of Zeppelins on their site. Here's an explanation of the difference between the terms Zeppelin, dirigible, airship, and blimp.

Windy City 

You know, as this blog continues my posts have become much more longwinded. It must be my Inner Windbag is coming out to play.

Happy Bloomsday & Curse Joyce's Sentence 

Today is the 100th anniversary of the day James Joyce's novel Ulysses was set:
Joyce set his entire novel on June 16, 1904 -- the day of his first date with the woman who later became his wife.

While the date has been celebrated by Joyce aficionados for decades, this year's celebrations are easily the biggest yet.

"Bloomsday 100" was launched on February 2 -- Joyce's birthday -- and brings together around 80 different events, from art exhibitions to concerts to stand-up comedy.

Some 800 academics are in town for a week-long symposium on every imaginable aspect of the writer's work.

Later on Wednesday, scores of cyclists in Edwardian costume will ride ramshackle bikes along the route walked by Joyce's fictional characters, and tourists, some in old-fashioned straw hats and striped blazers, will walk Joyce's city.
I strongly believe that any city which celebrates its literary traditions is a great thing--yet I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about this as well. Partially because I could never plow through the thing. I certainly tried. To this day I have the book sitting on a bookshelf, leering at and mocking me on a weekly basis.

But mostly it's because while trying to read it, I encountered a sentence that made me stop writing for years. I realized instantly that I would never write a sentence this good, and I slammed the book shut in anger--never to finish reading it and, perhaps, never to continue writing myself. Here's the sentence:
On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins.
Fortunately (in my estimation, though perhaps not yours), I did start writing again, although I still write more non-fiction than fiction now, a balance that was distinctively opposite prior to that damn sentence.

Anyway, enjoy the day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

'Young Turks' 

I am generally not a fan of Talk Radio programs. At least, while I do enjoy radio programs that feature people talking about news and issues, I usually loathe shows that fall under the radio industry term "Hot Talk."

Field guides to this "Hot Talk" beast describe several characteristics to look for in the wild:
  1. a host who interrupts a caller's opinion on a subject to interject their own opinion (sometimes disguised as fact, but opinion nonetheless)
  2. at the beginning of each hour the host announces a new topic, their opinion on the topic, and they never change their mind (usually by management fiat) no matter what counterarguments are presented
  3. all issues discussed are "hot button" issues, and there are never periods of open topics
  4. shouting against and/or derision of opposing views are encouraged
Though I usually avoid these nasty beasts, I have heard one recently that I can tolerate. It's called The Young Turks, and it's carried by Sirius Satellite Radio and a couple of terrestrial stations (one of which happens to be in my area).

My whole reason for bringing this up was hearing an interview with Dahlia Lithwick about her Slate article "Proof, Negative: The Justice Department's triumphant victory over the Constitution."

The program's co-host Cenk (pronounced like "Jenk") Uygur, went off on an impassioned rant that argued quite persuasively why due process really matters even for people like accused "dirty bomb" terrorist Jose Padilla.
Cenk: People say, 'Oh, you're being alarmist.' If you're not alarmed, you don't understand anything! They're destroying the Constitution!

[co-host] Ben: Yeah, but most people will see this and say, 'Hey, he's a terrorist. I don't care, I don't want September 11th to happen again.'

Cenk: Okay, great, you know what? Then you don't believe in this system of government. You believe in living in a police state, where you say, 'Hey, I don't care! He's a killer. He's a killer, and no rules should apply to him.'

Ben: Well, they're saying 'What if every year, we may lock up a hundred guys and hold them without seeing a lawyer just to be safe?' You know, 'Most of these guys probably did it.'

Cenk: Alright, you know, that's terrific. Let's vote on it. Let's vote on living in that system. Or you know what? Amend the Constitution. I dare you! Have the balls to amend the Constitution where you say, 'Well, these Constitutional rules apply to everyone, except the President gets to say arbitrarily a hundred U.S. citizens can have the Constitution completely stripped away from them, and they can be held forever with no charges whatsoever.' Let's have a vote on it. You try to pass that Constitutional amendment. I'll lobby against it. But they haven't done that. Instead, they've just decreed it. As if they're kings.
One can download this show here (although the archive might expire old shows). The segment with Lithwick begins at 46:30 into the mp3 (although the rant continues beyond the interview).

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Biometric Walkmans? 

Imagine grabbing your portable music player before a long stroll in a park, putting on your headphones, and hitting 'play.' But no sound comes out. No, it's not a dead battery--you just forgot to give the device your thumbprint.

This would seem like a laughable parody, or some wild-eyed conspiracy-theorist's paranoid fantasy, except that it's got a business plan behind it. A company called VeriTouch is working to make and market the "iVue," their self-described "revolutionary handheld, wireless receiver/player for encrypted delivery of full-length movies, music, and online gaming." (see what the gadget is supposed to look like here)

As quoted in The Register, the company says the device will ensure that "no delivered content to a customer may be copied, shared or otherwise distributed because each file is uniquely locked by the customer's live fingerprint scan." And, according to an update article, you'd need to give the gizmo your fingerprint to hear each and every song.

I am reminded of Woody Allen's Sleeper, where a rubbery finger-covering is used to simulate another person's prints for a security scanner. Some similar workaround would likely be developed quickly, not to share music but merely to minimize the tremendous annoyance.

To its proponents, biometrics are an irresistible concept: in theory, a perfect authentication of each unique user. But theory doesn't always easily translate into reality.

According to Science World, "banks in Texas, England, and Japan have already launched [an] iris-recognition system, and experts predict that within several years, iris scanners may replace standard credit cards. Imagine paying for clothes with a quick camera glance--you'd better shop with your eyes closed!"

Ignoring the frightening (and probably accurate) prediction in Spielberg's Minority Report of the intrusive marketing usages of such a technology, a recent test of an iris-authenticated ID card in England reportedly "failed to match people with their details in just four per cent of cases. Scale that up to the UK population and you've got nearly 2.5m people who won't be correctly identified." Failures were blamed on faulty camera positioning, but it was acknowledged that some problems were caused by "eye malformations, watery eyes, and long eyelashes."

The Register's follow-up article about the iVue points out that a fingerprint counterpart to the iris-scanner's watery eye problem might involve eczema sufferers:
As one reader asks, "Will I be able to get a non-DRM device on account of my medical condition? It'll be interesting to find out what the Disability Discrimination Act makes of that one."
One of the problems with marketing a biometrically-locked music device is exactly this issue. Biometrics will always have difficulties dealing with a small number of physically different people--fingerprint databases don't work as planned with an individual who lost both hands in an accident. Systems with human oversight (like, say, an airport biometric security scheme) can get around these challenges with backup plans and hopefully still allow for intact consumer dignity.

But a biometric lock can shut out someone entirely--even in cases where it previously worked fine, as in a victim of a burn or other wound who has their key finger (literally) wrapped in a bandage.

Such a wrinkle to the device's use would, in all likelihood, prevent any sort of mandatory adoption of the technology. It's difficult to force manufacturers, whether by threat of legal or economic sanction, to adopt something that's only going to be a P.R. nightmare because certain disabled customers can't use the thing at all.

And without enforced universal adoption, these types of Digital Rights Management (DRM) schemes are doomed to fail. As a purported internal Microsoft memo underscored (the so-called Darknet memo [.doc]), whenever consumers are given a choice between fully-functional entertainment devices and less-functional DRM-enabled devices, people will inevitably choose full functionality.

Because what ordinary law-abiding consumer wants the hassle of being assumed to be a copyright pirate and forced to poke the gizmo for each song? Hell, most people are glad to no longer be troubled by flipping LPs halfway through.

And if, somehow, a system like this ever became unavoidable to consumers, manufacturers might also want to dictate which finger people chose for their fingerprint scan. Otherwise, I have a sneaking suspicion that a certain finger would be overwhelmingly chosen. For symbolic reasons.


Acid-rock problem forces I-99 delay.
State road builders plan to remove all or part of seven acid-rock waste piles or fill areas in the Skytop Mountain area and treat, monitor or defer decisions for about five other sites, including fill under an already-paved section of Interstate 99.
See, kids, this is what happens 35 years after Hendrix and Steppenwolf concerts!

'Titanic' in 30 seconds, re-enacted by bunnies. 


'Change of Pace' 

Florida Voting Machines Have Recount Flaw:
Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., has asked state Attorney General Charlie Crist to investigate whether the head of the state elections division lied under oath when he denied knowing of the computer problem before reading about it in the media. A spokeswoman for Crist said he was reviewing the request.

The elections chief, Ed Kast, abruptly resigned Monday, saying he wanted a change of pace.
Weird that Mr. Kast needed a life-change at the same time there's a call to investigate possible perjury, innit?

Friday, June 11, 2004

'Radio in 20 Years' 

From Forbes:
The new buzz is surrounding WiMax, a Wi-Fi-like networking technology that could boast a range of up to 30 miles from its source. Suddenly, every radio station in the world that broadcasts on the Internet will be reachable from nearly anywhere in the world where there's WiMax coverage. A wireless Internet connection will be an expected feature, not a curiosity found only on a few high-end models. Radio will be a global medium once again.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: once wireless broadband becomes cheaply available, an FCC radio license isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Oh, maybe for certain demographics, and maybe as a method of emergency broadcasting (like ham radio).

There are interesting thoughts presented in this piece, although I don't agree with some of it:
If people are listening to more recorded programs than to live ones, how do you get them to willingly listen to advertisements that keep the programs on the air?

Simple: Cater to them by geography and by using other information about them, like their buying habits. A radio connected to the wireless Internet becomes a two-way medium.

Soon, you'll be able to buy concert tickets, or if you hear an ad that piques your interest, you'll be able to press a button to request more information be sent to your e-mail about a particular product or service. Once advertisers know a little bit about what you like, they'll make a point not to bother you with things you don't like.
Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Phone Cells & Service 

The BBC has a good story about the 'Camera Phone Backlash':
The booming popularity of camera phones which can snap and instantly send photos - and, with some models, short video clips - have piqued fears about workplace security.

The prospect of sensitive information being snapped and sent to other phones, copied to websites or e-mailed to others has prompted the likes of Intel, the phone maker Samsung, the UK's Foreign Office and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories in the United States to go as far as banning camera phones from their buildings.

At previews for popular films, reviewers are being asked to leave such gadgets behind, to prevent unauthorised stills being leaked before the release date.
Although this isn't a new story, and certainly not limited geographically, I've been curious to see when people start thinking about the broad implications of such devices.

That BBC story talks about businesses becoming more concerned with possible, and almost casual, corporate espionage. Some of the more sensational headlines have involved high-tech peeping toms snapping photos of strangers or girlfriends and then distributing them on the internet.

But I've been thinking about the implications for live concerts. At a show a couple of months ago, I was watching the now-ubiquitous people holding up their cell phones during the performance. I normally assume that these people are simply letting friends hear a horribly unlistenable simulcast of the concert by dialing them up.

These days, however, audience members could be recording full-motion video of the show via their mobile. And, as the technology improves, cell phones could become the audio show taper's best friend.

The question remains, though, will phones be banned from concerts? And what further ripple effects could this have?

A cell phone ban would not be like a normal anti-camera rule. As the quality gets better the device size is getting ever smaller--and they're already extremely easy to conceal.

And I can envision a scenario where a cell phone gets confiscated and is later illicitly used by a concert venue employee, resulting in massive charges on the concertgoer's mobile bill and a subsequent lawsuit against the venue and/or concert promoter.

This will be interesting.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Official Exclusive Minutiae Interview 

We've got a hot exclusive here at Mike's Minutiae--what they call a "get" in the field of Hot Journalism--and it's exclusively for the exclusive readers of Mike's Minutiae.

We were able to grab the Copyright Industries' elbow recently at a cocktail party, and threatened to not let go until an interview was scheduled. Here's what we got out of our whining and cajoling:
Me: Hey, thanks for agreeing to an interview!

Copyright Industry: (rubbing elbow) Uh, sure. Do you have an icepack?

Me: Yeah, in a minute. Anyway, can you explain to my readers why you won't offer à la carte pricing on your products?

Copyright Industry: Sure, it's really very simple. A lot of what we produce is uninteresting at best and godawful at worst, so we have to bundle about 80% garbage with the 20% consumers actually want. Otherwise, we wouldn't make our quarterly numbers to placate the shareholders who own the conglomerate that owns a holding entity which owns our parent company.

Me: I see.

Copyright Industry: (getting defensive) Hey, I didn't know this was going to be one of those "ambush" interviews!

Me: Uhh...

Copyright Industry: (relaxing a little) Oh, I'm sorry. I haven't been sleeping well lately.

Me: No problem. Could you explain why it wouldn't be better for your customers, and therefore ultimately better for you, if you didn't just sell 100% desirable material and 0% garbage.

Copyright Industry: (sighing) We've tried--oh, lord, how we've tried--to reduce the garbage quotient. We've done lengthy quality control studies, hired outside consultants--we even talked to a tarot card reader after a recommendation by one of our recording artists. But, see, the funny thing is, you just can't reliably commodify the product stream on the creative side.

Me: Really?

Copyright Industry: Startling, isn't it? But it's true. I mean, you'd think they would have told us that back in M.B.A. school! As it turns out, all works of art and art-type products are predicated upon risk, and sometimes end up in failure. Our people have been working on a formula for years to calculate the precise risk quotient--you should see the spreadsheet!--but it's always eluded our Quantification Initiative.

Me: Wow.

Copyright Industry: Yeah, and on top of the risk factor, we've learned that people can't be forced to like something they don't. (sighs) We had really high-hopes for Project ThroatCram back in the '70s, but all it successfully produced was Charlie's Angels and K.C. and the Sunshine Band.

Me: (coughs)

Copyright Industry: After a four-year market research study, we uncovered some strong insights about consumer taste. Different people like different things. One size does not fit all with creative products--there's just no such "killer app" like an elastic waistband for music or TV shows or movies.

Me: (nodding sympathetically)

Copyright Industry: So, voila! We developed the Bundled Garbage Model that's served us so well for so long now.

Me: Hm.

Copyright Industry: And you know what, we're looking to export this fantastically successful model to other industries as well. (confidentially) That will probably help us on the P.R. front a little bit.

Me: What do you mean?

Copyright Industry: Well, we've been sharing details about this model to help the ailing U.S. auto industry. Why make sure that all of the car works perfectly, when you can do, say, the drive train and air conditioning well and cut costs on the rest? Customers have to buy the whole car, right?

Me: (alarmed) Uh, interesting...

Copyright Industry: Very interesting! A number of CEOs from different industries are looking very seriously in our research: airlines, food service, marbles.

Me: Marbles?

Copyright Industry: Hell, yeah! As long as you make good peawees and alleys, why spend as much time on the glimmers and gooseberry swirls? Kids have to buy the whole bag!

Me: I see. Well, I think we'd better wrap up. I must admit, it's been stomach-churning.

Copyright Industry: (grinning widely) After ringing registers, that's our favorite reaction!

Me: Thanks anyway.

Copyright Industry: And while we're on the subject, can I interest you in the latest Owen Wilson DVD?

Me: This interview is over!

[the tape recorder goes dead]


Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Death of Presidents 

Ronald Reagan becomes the 10th U.S. President to lie in state in Washington's Capitol Rotunda.

Lincoln's 'death' maskAbraham Lincoln was the first, and all the current reporting on Reagan's death reminds me of a ghoulish artifact I've been meaning to see here in Pittsburgh. A supposed death mask of Abraham Lincoln is on display at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial here in the Oakland section of town (the Memorial has a high creepy quotient: it's also where the cage scene of The Silence of the Lambs was filmed).

Although it's billed as a death mask, other sources say that, in truth, no masks were made of Lincoln in death. Two "life masks" were made while Lincoln was alive, however, and so the one on display here appears to be cast from Lincoln in 1865.

Images of Sound 

To preserve old wax cylinder and other antiquated recording media, "researchers using optical-scanning equipment have made exquisitely detailed maps of the grooves of such recordings. By simulating how a stylus moves along those contours, the team has reproduced the encoded sounds with high fidelity."
The scientists used their microscope to make a two-dimensional map of the grooves on a 78-revolutions-per-minute shellac disc of a circa 1950 recording of "Goodnight Irene." They also wrote software that calculates the velocity with which a stylus would move in the mapped grooves. A sound clip from the virtual disc sounded better than the same section played back from the original disc with a stylus did.
Wow. Cool!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Administrative Note 

I'm neck-deep in a membership campaign at work, so the posts might be a little lighter this week. Feel free to read the Project Gutenberg etext of Dicken's David Copperfield in the meantime.

Sunday, June 06, 2004


Utah Beach, 2002To commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day, head over here and listen to CBS radio's 6am update of the invasion (landings of which had begun some five hours previous).

After hearing that, go to the BBC's page of archival audio and listen to everything there. Several reports recorded on the scene (but not broadcast until later) are the most remarkable, including tapes made during the channel crossing and in paratrooper and bomber aircraft.

Finally, PBS has some contemporaneous newspaper accounts.

UPDATE: Damn, how could I have missed this one (it's an American network pool reporter's very dramatic recording made aboard one of the invasion vessels)?

Saturday, June 05, 2004

"Love, Love, Love Will Not Fade Away..." 

The Psychedelic Furs played a free show here last night. Part of the Three Rivers Arts Festival, it was an outdoor show down at Point State Park (located where the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio).

The weather was threatening, even a little sprinkle at the start of the band's set, but fortunately the crowd stuck it out and the sky "held it" til the next rest stop.

The band these days features original members Tim Butler (on bass) and guitarist John Ashton, and naturally it wouldn't be the Furs without frontman Richard Butler. Drummer Frank Ferrer is a vet of Richard Butler's '90s band Love Spit Love, and they round out the sound with keyboardist Amanda Kramer (who was part of Information Society when they recorded "What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)" and has also been part of Anton Fier and Lloyd Cole's orbit of musicians).

Richard Butler's voice is as throaty and gritty as ever. I'd wager that more than a few tobacco fields have been burned in the ongoing raspitization of that voice. One or two of the more melodic numbers should probably be dropped from the setlist, but Butler's pipes sounded remarkably little changed on a number of the show's songs.

Standout performances were "President Gas" (with Butler saluting the crowd like a motionless Nazi statue at the song's beginning and ending), the lone encore tune "India," and the show-starter "Heaven" (more on this in a moment). And of course, they pleasingly ran through their biggest songs: "Love My Way," "The Ghost In You," "Heartbreak Beat," and the set-closing "Pretty in Pink."

I was disappointed that they didn't do "Into You Like a Train," "She Is Mine," or "Wedding Song," but I was at least happy they selected "India" for the setlist.

As the band come out on stage at the beginning and launched into "Heaven," a wave of a decades-long deja vu washed over me. My first time on the radio came in college in the fall of 1984, the same year that "Heaven" and the Furs' album Mirror Moves came out.

Almost exactly ten years later, I saw Richard Butler perform solo at the WHTG Christmas concert at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, NJ. The radio station was, that year, celebrating its 10th anniversary as one of the original alternative stations. Towards the end of his set, Butler began strumming "Heaven" on his acoustic guitar.

"Heaven...," he sang, "...is the whole of our hearts." And it dawned on me that not only was WHTG celebrating a ten-year anniversary, but so was this song and so was I. The moment seemed somehow so perfect, so complete, as Butler continued his song, "And heaven don't tear you apart..." It was a magical moment.

So that old feeling gripped me once again last night.

I had seen the Furs play a reunion show just four years ago, so that locus of events from 1994 wasn't as fresh in my mind. But as soon as those opening notes to "Heaven" rang out, this time with the full band, the deja vu hit me. The song is now twenty years old, and so are my radio experiences. And my radio station, now WYEP, is also observing anniversary celebrations, its 30th since signing on in 1974.
There's too many kings wanna hold you down
And a world at the window gone underground
There's a hole in the sky where the sun don't shine
And a clock on the wall and it counts my time

And heaven is the whole of our hearts
And heaven don't tear you apart
Yeah, heaven is the whole of our hearts
And heaven don't tear you apart

There's a song on the air with a love-you line
And a face in a glass and it looks like mine...
It was a nice experience.

And Richard Butler better damn well plan on a tour in 2014.

Friday, June 04, 2004

"What the Pope said to Bush" 

This was a headline I just saw. Isn't this also a line from some sort of joke?


Wow. I never before knew the etymology of the word "scumbag." And to find it out because of a flap involving the comic strip Blondie. Very unusual.

I just read an article published several weeks ago about a Blondie strip using the word and subsequent complaints received.

Merriam-Webster only defines the word as "a dirty or despicable person," but the original meaning is actually a condom.


I thought Splitsville, a great Baltimore power pop band featuring the Heusen brothers formerly from The Greenberry Woods, was splitsville. But no, they actually have a new CD out and are even doing some live shows. Cool!

Thursday, June 03, 2004

The Smithereens in the Hall of Fame? 

Maybe not the Hall of Fame one might expect. While searching the web for something unrelated, I hit a press release that mentions a "White Castle Cravers Hall of Fame" and states:
The induction ceremony also will reunite 32 of the previously inducted. Included in this group are members of the band The Smithereens, one of whom was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
I wonder which one?

I think this is a subculture I don't want to learn more about.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Just Because You Say It's So Doesn't Make It So 

Seen on an ATM screen recently: "This ATM is conveniently located."

Ummm... According to who? Oh, yeah--the bank which is attached to the back of the ATM!

What a stupid message to put on an ATM.

Meanwhile, Slate dissects a Time, Inc., email disclaimer (funny--despite the subtle Microsoft vs. AOL tweaking going on, whether unintentional or not).

Rose-colored Wraparound Sunglasses 

The music industry, fresh from new customer lawsuit initiatives, is shifting their gaze from the file downloading issue to CD burning:
The recording industry is testing technology that would prevent consumers from making copies of CD "burns," a piracy defense that could put some significant new restrictions on legally purchased music.

Tools under review by the major labels would limit the number of backups that could be made from ordinary compact discs and prevent copied, or "burned," versions from being used to create further copies, according to Macrovision and SunnComm International, rivals that are developing competing versions of the digital rights management (DRM) software.
Of course, it'll be interesting to see what anti-burning restrictions will be developed by these companies; currently employed products by Macrovision and SunnComm are largely ineffective.

Despite this fact,
Executives at SunnComm and [record label] BMG said...they had been satisfied with the technology as a deterrent to casual copiers, rather than trying to create an unhackable protection.
This attitude is interesting, since the consumers most targeted by the music industry--young music fans--seem to be the least "casual" of potential copiers.

But even a cursory google search will return sites which list CDs "protected" by DRM schemes and suggestions for getting around these.

We shall see whether these currently-touted "solutions" end up like the failed Secure Digital Music Initiative. If so, perhaps the music industry will then embrace the approach that will be most effective: drop the damn CD prices.

U.S. Pharmaceutical Industry, 2045 

[inspirational music, up and under]

ANNOUNCER 1: You've worked hard taking control of your life. And, now that you've made a mess of that, it's time you take that next step. When you've failed at life, you can count on DECEDEX--the little black pill that ends all your earthly cares! Almost no patient who uses new DECEDEX says they ever have another problem, according to post-treatment satisfaction survey. DECEDEX is the number one pill of its kind prescribed by doctors worldwide.

ANNOUNCER 2 [fast read]: Like all medicines, DECEDEX can cause some side effects. Most common side effects include headache, dizziness, and sexual dysfunction before death occurs. In rare cases, some patients report unwanted ongoing incidence of life. Should life occur for more than four hours after usage, see your doctor.

[music swells]

ANNOUNCER 1: Ask your doctor if DECEDEX is right for you! Because when you've failed at life, you can count on DECEDEX!

[music, coda and out]

New 'Live Aid' rumors & statements 

Everyone jumped on the bandwagon after Fleet Street reported that U2's Bono was planning a "Live Aid 2" for next year's 20th anniversary.

But according to Bono, via NME:
"At this point there are no plans for a Live Aid 2. It's always there in the background but right now, no. Right now we're after billions (of dollars) not millions. A Live Aid 2 would help, but it wouldn't fix the problem."
However, the anniversary will be used as a launchpad:
A spokeswoman from DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) the campaigning organisation founded by Bono and Geldof in 2002, said they were hoping to whip up enormous support for African issues throughout the year.

"There will be a lot of normal, everyday people wondering what has happened since Live Aid, particularly in Ethiopia," she said.

"It helped awaken and energise a generation who took matters into their own hands because what they were seeing was so awful. Now people understand charity work alone won’t help. It has also got to be about governments."

For you armageddon types. 

Killer Infections only tabloids could love:
For decades confined to hospitals, where it preyed on patients and built up immunity to antibiotics, the bug - known officially as Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus or MRSA - has also grown in strength.

"Usually with infections you need a break in the skin to pass it," said Dr. Howard Grossman, who has a private practice in Chelsea.

"Not with this. It gets through unbroken skin with casual contact."

It ain't just U.S. which is lawsuit happy... 

From England:
A student who was booted off his degree course for plagiarism is to sue the university. He says tutors at the University of Kent should have spotted what he was doing and stopped him sooner.

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