May 11, 2006

CD Music In An MP3/AAC/OGG/etc. World [8:37 am]

A review of Tool’s latest suggests, once again, that there are reasons that artists get to select their medium of expression — and why there are those who elect not to follow the march of technology: Critic’s Notebook: Tool’s ‘10,000 Days’ Recalls the Good Old Days of CD’s

Tool’s current single, a six-minute marvel called “Vicarious,” reached No. 2 on Billboard’s modern rock chart, but it isn’t the kind of song that might cross over to pop radio. And while other bands are teaching fans the joys of legal downloading, Tool is one of the few current big-name acts that refuse to sell through iTunes. (Others include Kid Rock, Linkin Park and Radiohead.)

So “10,000 Days” (Volcano/Zomba/Sony BMG) is purely a CD, though it’s a pretty elaborate one. Along with those 77 minutes of music, you get a wraparound hardcover case; the booklet is printed stereoscopically, with lenses built into the cover. This is the kind of CD that makes a $9.99 download seem like a rip-off.

We have grown used to hearing musicians and listeners pine for the glory days of the vinyl LP. (That warm, crackling sound! Those 288 square inches of blank canvas!) And a generation that came of age in the 1980’s has found ways to mourn the demise of the lowly cassette. (Read all about it in the book “Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture,” edited by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.) Now, listening to Tool’s glorious, immersive new album, it’s possible to mourn the tragic demise — is there any other kind? — of the CD age. Remember the compact disc, with its finicky packaging, its bloated running time, its charming vulnerability to scratches?

Certainly “10,000 Days” evokes a bygone time when musicians expected listeners to swallow their albums whole (unlike vinyl records, which required constant flipping), and in order (unlike MP3’s, which encourage constant flitting). In the CD age musicians learned to add their own diversions — skits, interludes, collaborations — to keep listeners refreshed on a journey that might last nearly 80 minutes. In “10,000 Days,” the band’s first album since the 2001 masterpiece “Lateralus,” labyrinthine songs are cushioned by intros and outros and digressions. (One of these, “Lipan Conjuring,” is 71 seconds of chants.) Unlike LP’s or MP3’s, CD’s encourage musicians to take their time.

[...] The interstitial music found on CD’s also presents a challenge to the iTunes model. (The online store was briefly flummoxed, a few years ago, by a Sonic Youth album track called “Silence”; shoppers eventually won the right to pay 99 cents for 63 seconds of nothing.) In the case of Tool a number of fans have complained online that the new album contains too much atmospheric filler and not enough full-bore songs. No wonder the band doesn’t want consumers to cherry-pick.

[...] Musical formats inevitably change the way music is made. The rise of LP’s led musicians to think in terms of twinned sets. And despite its seeming formlessness, the CD has shaped music too, although it was harder to appreciate that before MP3’s came along. (Nothing helps you love an old product like a new one.) Most people listen to the songs near the start of a CD the most often, and the most intently. A well-organized CD finds subtle ways to accommodate this tendency, and to reward it.

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David Pogue, Cynic [8:28 am]

Of course, cynicism is a pretty important attribute to have when dealing with this industry: Why the World Doesn’t Need Hi-Def DVD’s

As it turns out, you didn’t even know the meaning of the word cynical. This month, Toshiba’s HD-A1 high-definition DVD player hit store shelves. It’s the first marketplace volley in an absurd and pointless format war among the titans of the movie, electronics and computer industries.

Just contemplating the rise of a new DVD format is enough to make you feel played. What’s wrong with the original DVD format, anyway? It offers brilliant picture, thundering surround sound and bonus material. The catalog of DVD movies is immense and reasonably priced. And DVD players are so cheap, they practically fall out of magazines; 82 percent of American homes have at least one DVD player.

To electronics executives, all of this can mean only one thing: It’s time to junk that format and start over.

Of course, the executives don’t explain this decision by saying, “Because we’ve saturated the market for regular DVD players.”

Instead, they talk about video and picture quality. A DVD picture offers much better color and clarity than regular TV, but not as good as high-definition TV. The new discs hold far more information, enough to display Hollywood’s masterpieces in true high definition (if you have a high-definition TV, of course).

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Anticircumvention and Retail [8:18 am]

California man pleads guilty to Xbox tampering

A co-owner of a Hollywood video game store that caters to celebrity clients on Wednesday pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to violate federal copyright laws by selling Xbox video game consoles modified to play pirated games.

Jason Jones, a co-owner of ACME Game Store, entered a guilty plea in federal court in Los Angeles. His business partner, Jonathan Bryant, has signed a plea agreement and is scheduled to plead guilty to a conspiracy count on Monday, prosecutors said.

Jones pleaded guilty, and Bryant agreed to plead guilty, to one felony count of conspiring to traffic in a technology used to circumvent a copyright protection system, conspiring to infringe on a valid copyright for financial gain, and willfully infringing a copyrighted work by reproducing and distributing pirated works worth more than $1,000.

[...] “I don’t know how to modify a (expletive) Xbox,” Jones said. He added that performing such modifications requires significant training and that the prevalence of such tampering has not reached epidemic proportions.

A third defendant, Pei “Patrick” Cai–who allegedly made the modifications to Microsoft’s original video game console to allow users to copy rented or borrowed games onto the console for future play–has missed his court appearances and the government considers him a fugitive.

Cai is charged with conspiracy, two felony violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act–which prohibits trafficking in technology designed to circumvent digital copyright protection technology–as well as copyright infringement and copyright infringement for profit.

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It’s For The Children [8:10 am]

Congress targets social network sites

Now MySpace and other social-networking sites like LiveJournal.com and Facebook are facing a new threat: a proposed federal law that would effectively require most schools and libraries to render those Web sites inaccessible to minors, an age group that includes some of the category’s most ardent users.

“When children leave the home and go to school or the public library and have access to social-networking sites, we have reason to be concerned,” Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, told CNET News.com in an interview.

Fitzpatrick and fellow Republicans, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, on Wednesday endorsed new legislation (click here for PDF) that would cordon off access to commercial Web sites that let users create public “Web pages or profiles” and also offer a discussion board, chat room, or e-mail service.

That’s a broad category that covers far more than social-networking sites such as Friendster and Google’s Orkut.com. It would also sweep in a wide range of interactive Web sites and services, including Blogger.com, AOL and Yahoo’s instant-messaging features, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360, which permits in-game chat.

Contrast with this Reuters article: As freedom shrinks, teens seek MySpace to hang out [pdf]

As the real world is perceived as more dangerous with child abductors lurking on every corner, kids flock online to hang out with friends, express their hopes and dreams and bare their souls with often painful honesty — mostly unbeknownst to their tech-clumsy parents.

“We have a complete culture of fear,” said Danah Boyd, 28, a Ph.D student and social media researcher at the University of California Berkeley. “Kids really have no place where they are not under constant surveillance.”

Driven to and from school, chaperoned at parties and often lacking public transport, today’s middle-class American kids are no longer free to hang out unsupervised at the park, the bowling alley or to bike around the neighborhood they way they did 20 years ago.

“A lot of that coming-of-age stuff in public is gone. So kids are creating social spaces within all this controlled space,” said Boyd.

[...] “We are now deleting something like 5,000 under-age profiles a day,” said Shawn Gold, head of marketing for MySpace.

Gold said the dangers should be kept in perspective. “If MySpace were a state it would be twice the size of California, but the crime associated with it would be a five-block area of New York City.”

For all the adult alarm over the coarse language and provocative poses often seen on such sites, Boyd said teens are doing just what they have always done.

“Adults are not normally privy to these teen-age expressions. But when teens hang out in public they do these stupid things and they always have.

“Teens are trying to figure out their sexuality for better or worse. It’s a problem for parents to pretend like it doesn’t exist. If parents have an open mind and can hear their teens expressing themselves in all their ridiculousness, they can make sense of it and it stops being so scary,” she said.

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The Evolution of Google [8:05 am]

Social networking + webpage tagging = collaborative filtering of the Web?  While the article suggests that people will be tagging pages they “like,” tags for the converse will certainly be devised, and it will be interesting to see who is found liable for “slandering” a WWW site.  (Something to ask Alan about when he comes to MIT to talk tomorrow.)  Google Shows New Services in Battle of Search Engines

On Wednesday, Google introduced a beta, or test service, called Google Co-op. Eventually it will allow Google users to mark Web pages they like and associate each page with certain topics. For now the service is mainly of use to large organizations, which can mark their own sites with labels and submit them to Google to make relevant information easier to find in search results.

Initially, Google has focused the Co-op service on two areas, health and local guides, and the handful of participating sites includes the Mayo Clinic and OpenTable, a restaurant reservation service. In several weeks it will create an easy way for individuals to label any page on the Web, and it will add more topics like autos and consumer electronics.

Users will be able to “subscribe” to the Web sites flagged by certain organizations or people, so those sites will be featured prominently when they conduct Web searches.

Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president for search products, said in an interview that a chief purpose of the new product was to help improve Google’s main search by determining which sites gathered the most interest from users.

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OT: Geek Culture [7:50 am]

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; I’ve been to plenty of SAE Congresses. Dawn must have run out of things to write about at E3. Don’t miss the slideshow: Trade Show’s Skin Policy Prompts Quick Coverups [pdf]

Costumes at this year’s annual trade show at the Los Angeles Convention Center were more sedate — at least by E3 standards — because of tougher enforcement of an existing ban on sexually explicit or provocative booth materials. New rules impose a maximum $5,000 penalty for exhibitors whose models are nude, partially nude or wearing bathing suit bottoms.

And to make sure the rules were followed, there were enforcers whose job it was to roam the aisles making sure “booth babes” didn’t reveal too much.

But rules, of course, are made to be bent. And it turned out E3 has provided a way to do just that. In short, models are allowed to show more skin if they are embodying a particular provocatively dressed video game character.

CNet’s coverage

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Today’s Zippy [7:10 am]


Definitely worth a look.

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