Ear This

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Indieish : CC:365

Indieish : Music Selections from the Creative Commons � Day 82 : Steven Dunston - California

I've been following Indieish for a few weeks now. It's a blog about music released under the Creative Commons license, and frequently features artists from Jamendo.

They also have a cool feature called CC:365, which features a new Creative Commons song every day of the year.

Well, today seems like as good a day as any to mention Indieish, since the song California from my album, Hymns About Her, is their featured song for March 23, 2006...

It’s got sort of a Steely Dan, singer songwriter melancholy depression sound to it. Why do I always like dark music?
If you don't listen too closely, the song can be quite pleasant and charming. Thanks, Indieish, for listening closely enough to notice the dark undertones.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

DRM Is a Vampire

DRM Sucks ... Battery Life of MP3 Players - Gizmodo

Those of us who hate DRM out of principle have a new, very practical reason: It's a power vampire. CNET conducted tests which show that protected WMA files, like the music you would download from Napster or Rhapsody, eat up as much as 25% more of your battery life when compared to unrestricted music files.

Apple fans get off a bit easer. iPods with Apple's FairPlay DRM files (like you would download from the iTunes Music Store) reduced battery life by about 8% over regular AAC or mp3 files.

These vampire files reduced battery life in CNET's tests by as much as five hours, depending on the mp3 player tested. If you're on a transocean flight, that would be a long, silent, five hours.

This is not just a practical issue -- it's an environmental issue as well, especially for players which use "disposable" batteries like AAs. But even if your mp3 player has a lithium polymer battery, it still takes extra electricity to charge it, and the additional drain will shorten its life.

We have yet another reason to get our music from places like mp3Tunes, Jamendo and Magnatune, which serve up high quality mp3 and ogg files, free of DRM.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Origami May Force Gadget Rethink

Earlier I mentioned that while the Origami may not directly replace an iPod, a PSP, or a smartphone/PDA like a Treo, it might force us to reconsider the way we use those devices.

Well, I've done some reconsidering, and I'm going to talk about it. But first I'm going to talk about my car...

For years I drove a Ford Focus hatchback. Good gas mileage, good for parallel parking, etc. And then one day I really thought about the fact that, while I was driving a 5-seater hatchback, rarely was I five people with two suitcases. My typical trips were either one person commuting, or 1-3 people with lots of stuff -- often too much stuff for my Focus -- which meant renting a van or borrowing a pickup.

So I traded my Focus for a bicycle and a midsize SUV. My short, single-person trips can be made on my bicycle, and the hauling can be done by the SUV. Ideally, each trip would be more closely aligned to the ideal vehicle, and gas usage would actually fall, as would my expenses at Avis.

I can see the same thing happening with the Origami. It can't exactly replace an iPod, but an Origami plus a USB flash drive can render the iPod unecessary, which is perhaps quite analagous to an SUV plus a bicycle replacing my Ford Focus.

Imagine someone with the following gear:
1. Desktop PC/Home Server (Tethered)$1,200
2. Laptop (Luggable) $1,200
3. iPod/other HD mp3 player (Portable) $300
4. Treo/Blackberry or other smartphone/PDA (Portable) $300

Now imagine the same person with an Origami:
1. Desktop PC/Home Server (Tethered)$1,200
2. Origami (Portable)$800
3. Flash MP3 player (Pocketable) $100
4. Tiny, basic mobile phone (Pocketable)Free

List #2 is $900 cheaper, and even less, if the Origami is closer to $500 than $1,000. And while List #2 loses some functionality (mobile typing, primarily), it also gains functionality -- ultramobility with the small phone and mp3 player that was unavailable with List #1.

If you're already hauling both an iPod and a Blackberry, you probably have a bag to put them in. So the Origami is no less portable. And since it is running a full version of Windows, The Origami could likely be used as a tethered PC for music services such as Napster and Rhapsody, reducing the monthly cost of a "To Go" device, not to mention giving you full access to your normal applications. It would make an ideal companion for a digital photographer -- not only would it store pictures -- it can actually run Photoshop, for on-the-go editing!

Back to cars... the Focus was more fun to drive than the SUV, and I sometimes find my lazy ass in the SUV when I should be on the bike. But overall, rethinking my transportation was a great move, and I might do something similar when a mature UMPC/Origami device hits the market.


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Monday, March 13, 2006

VEIL: "Confusing to the point of anger!"

Practical Blogging has a short, but interesting take on the Analog Hole legislation I have complained about a couple of times. But I might have missed the worst part of it! HR 4569 includes a secret technology that you can find out about only if you pay $10,000 and sign a Non-disclosure agreement!

VEIL is the watermark technology that would be embedded in broadcasts. But how does it work? What does it do? We don't know, because it's a secret.

While this kind of secrecy is understandable in matters of national security, no one can seriously believe that our national security is at stake if future digital televisions have hi-res analog outputs.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has an action alert
where you can protest this scary new development, where private corporations can get secret legislation passed into law, without the public being able to know what it entails.


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Friday, March 10, 2006

Origami/UMPC: Tablets finally intrigue me

So now we know. The Origami is really a UMPC (Ultra-Mobile PC). Which is why they called it Origami. How do you say UMPC? You-Mippick? Uhm-Pik? Oomps? I suppose you have to say all four letters separately. The usual suspects like Engadget and Gizmodo seem unimpressed, a bit deflated after all the hype. But I am actually intrigued by this mini computer -- mostly by what it's not. It's not a laptop, it's not a phone, it's not an iPod, it's not a PDA. But if executed properly, it could force us to rethink all of these other devices.

Right now I have a desktop PC at home, and a laptop for both home and mobility. I'm also perpetually in the market for a smart phone/PDA, but nothing has quite grabbed me yet. But I could replace the laptop with the UMPC and just use the desktop PC at home. The UMPC would make an interesting VOIP phone, in combination with a bluetooth earpiece. And it could potentially replace the need for a PSP or Gameboy, at least for the casual gamer.

As for the inevitable iPod comparison, it's too big as a sole replacement, but a combination UMPC + a small USB/flash MP3 player is much more versatile than an iPod. Imagine being at the ski resort, and leaving the UMPC in your locker, coming by twice a day to fill up your flash player. And of course there is the satisfaction of watching movies on a 7" screen on your way home, as opposed to a 2" screen on an iPod.

If you're ultra mobile with everything you own in your pockets, of course, this is not for you. It is aimed at anyone who is already carrying multiple devices in a purse, backpack or briefcase. Imagine dumping your PDA, mp3 player, laptop and gaming device, for one replacement.

The real test will be whether they can keep the battery life up and the cost close to $500. If I could get bluetooth, wi-fi, a 30gb+ hard drive, and an 8-hour battery for less than $600, I would jump on it.


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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mac Mini: The Television will not be Revolutionized.

Today everyone is abuzz about the new iPod Hi-fi. But perhaps the more interesting part of Steve Jobs' product announcement was the new Intel-powered Mac Mini, which now has the power to live up to its obvious promise as an entertainment server.

The premium Mini ($799) now comes with a dual core processor, and with DVI output, and a Superdrive, it could conceivably act as a DVR and media hub. Unfortunately, that's not what Steve Jobs has in mind.

The new Mac Mini now has a remote, and Front Row software, but no tuner card. And Front Row only works with Quicktime-compatible video files.

Steve Jobs wants you to buy all of your media from the iTunes Music Store (inevitably to soon be renamed as the iTunes Media Store). And while iTunes made its mark with "Rip. Mix. Burn." as its mantra, Apple's foray into video seems to be all about "Pay. Download. Watch."

Unlike CDs, DVDs are encrypted, so ripping them to your PC, at least in the US, is a murky legal manner. While it will be possible to do on a Mac Mini, I doubt that Apple will make it easy or intuitive, like ripping CDs in iTunes. No, the video experience will all be about pay to play. And that top->down approach to content is so 1999.


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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Songbird Sings. But to Whom?

The tech elite, like Slashdot and Ars Technica have dutifully covered the first flight of Songbird. Briefly, Songbird is an open source alternative to iTunes and the iTunes Music Store. Songbird is a combination of a web browser and a music jukebox -- think of it as a lo-fi iTunes with the entire internet acting as the Music Store. Songbird comes with links to stores like mp3Tunes and eMusic, as well as various blogs and mp3 aggregators. It also accepts third party extensions, which bodes well for its future flexibility and features. At the moment though, I'm not sure who the target audience is.

Target Audience
Perhaps it is the digital elite. Songbird certainly has geek cred, with its hybrid Winamp/Firefox roots. But while I applaud the OGG Vorbis and FLAC capabilities, I think most Windows geeks can get along just fine with Firefox, which they already have, and a player like Foobar2000, which has a much smaller resources footprint than Songbird. With the FoxyTunes extension for Firefox, I already have the ability to play mp3s from my browser, though I rarely feel the need to do so.

The included radio and blog links are hit and miss. I appreciate the link to the Take Your Medicine blog, which introduced me to a cool new band. But overall, the available free mp3s were spotty, and the eMusic and mp3Tunes links were not exactly a revelation. Songbird has a Devices menu, but my Rio Karma is not a supported device.

Songbird is obviously trying very hard to be like iTunes, so one might think that an iTunes user would be the target audience. The iTunes audience is a much different crowd -- more interested in style and ease of use than geek features like open source or OGG. Songbird works hard to cop an iTunes look/feel. They even go so far as to mock iTunes ancient Rip. Mix. Burn. slogan. Yet to this point, Songbird only mixes. I could find no ripping or burning features.

The Experiment
As a test of its current capabilities, I tried to locate a mainstream mp3 to download, for free or for cash. I randomly chose Joss Stone, since I had seen her on TV last night at the Grammys, and last weekend at the Superbowl. That girl has some serious buzz right now. I used the Songbird search tool to try to locate her. First I tried an eMusic search, but no dice. So I did a Google Music search within Songbird. That was more successful. The first link was a page offering to sell me the Joss Stone single, Right To Be Wrong -- from the iTunes Music Store.

My take on Songbird? I'm glad there's an open source challenge to the proprietary iTunes. I'll keep it installed, and check the updates regularly. I am looking forward to seeing what the community develops for extensions. I, for one, would love to see BitTorrent integration, which would allow Jamendo and other grassroots P2P publishers to feature their music on Songbird without risking enormous bandwidth costs.

For now, Songbird adds no features I don't have with my other software (EAC, MusicMagic Mixer, Foobar2000) and the crashes, missing features and inconsistent interface mark this as too new to trust as my primary player. Yet.


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I'd Like to Thank My Lawyer

Let me start out by saying that I've never had anything other than positive experiences with entertainment industry lawyers -- even inviting some to my wedding. But a recurring them at the Grammys last night was the relief from the artists that lawyers had figured out a way to allow art to be created.

The pinnacle of this was the Linkin Park/Jay-Z award, where the band thanked the team of lawyers that made the collaboration possible. It's easy to blame the lawyers. But the system we have created makes them indispensible. Any musician's contract with their label includes a countless number of ways that the artist signs away their right to their current and future works, making mash-ups and other forms of collaboration difficult or nearly impossible, especially between artists from different labels. The answer is simple and obvious: Artists should be the sole owners of rights to their own creations. It is the creative crime of our era that all of our great musicians have had to give away the ownership of their own recordings in order to get those recordings made.

For artists already signed to labels, this is a problem. But for artists still unsigned, there are now some interesting alternatives, like Magnatune, Jamendo, CD Baby and other outlets which will allow you to sell your music -- both digital and physical copies, without selling the rights to the masters.

This is much closer than our current system to the original intent of copyright law, which was to allow artists to control how to disseminate their own art. At some point, an independent artist will sell a million albums without the support of a label, and the music industry monolith will suddenly cease to be relevant. Including the labels, the lawyers, and -- gasp -- the Grammys.


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