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EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 18, 2006 1 comments
Creative Labs has sued Apple Computer alleging that the iPod violates a patent granted for the Creative Zen player. Patent number 6,928,433 describes itself as "a method, performed by software executing on the processor of a portable music playback device, that automatically files tracks according to hierarchical structure of categories to organize tracks in a logical order. A user interface is utilized to change the hierarchy, view track names, and select tracks for playback or other operations." To iPod fans, that is tantamount to patenting the human body. You've got two arms and two legs? Busted! The patent was filed on January 5, 2001 but not granted until August 9, 2005. The first-generation iPod made its debut on October 23, 2001, a few months after the filing. "We will pursue all manufacturers that use the same navigation system," vows Creative's CEO Sim Wong Hoo.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 17, 2006 2 comments
Doesn't the world sometimes seem unbearably noisy? The best advice I can give you is this: Stick it in your ear! I'm talking about Mack's Pillow Soft Earplugs. Made of silicon gel, they mold themselves to the shape of your outer ear canal and cut noise by 22 decibels. That's better than any model of noise-canceling headphones. With a few days of practice you'll get used to gently pushing them into the ear just enough to cover the opening. Getting used to the sound of your footsteps traveling up your spine (BONK, BONK, BONK) takes longer. And I must admit that eating while wearing plugs sounds like a horror movie. But I am no longer willing to walk out on the road-rage-possessed streets of New York City without them. I also find them comforting on buses, subways, planes, and even in airports—a siren at the Newark Airport security checkpoint once practically brought me to my knees. What will other people think when they see you with plugs in your ears? Who cares? Give up a little dignity and baby your ears. They're the most irreplacable components in your system.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 16, 2006 2 comments
Are you about to bring your iPod to San Francisco, Oakland, or the Bay Area? Then don't forget to download Bay Area Rapid Transit information before you leave home. In addition to the BART system map, you'll also get schedules, station information, and email warnings whenever the system changes. The map will work only on iPods with color displays and iTunes 4.7 or later. For skeds and stations you'll need a display (color or B&W) plus the Notes feature. BART also offers a PDA QuickPlanner for the Palm OS and Pocket PC and a Wireless QuickPlanner for web-enabled mobile devices. For other cities, check out isubwaymaps.com (formerly ipodsubwaymaps.com before Apple's lawyers sent a nastygram). The enthusiast-fueled site has maps of Berlin, Bilbao, Boston, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, LA, Lyon, Melbourne, Milan, Montreal, NYC, Paris, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington DC. Paypal donations appreciated but not compulsory.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 15, 2006 1 comments
Listeners who claim to detect audible differences in digital interconnects may be equally fascinated by this report from a British CD-R distributor. Among other things, it includes useful descriptions of how CD-Rs and CD-RWs (and recordable DVDs) actually work. A brief quote hardly does justice to the more subjective details presented but here's a dose: "Whilst colorations in sound may be evident between differing brands, it's fair to say that only very poor 'B grade' un-named CD-R media are likely to cause offence to the ears.... So yes, there may be slight differences in the sound of one brand or specification over another; but it should be remembered that the real issue, the most likely problem area, is going to be playback compatibility rather than sound." Speed kills: "Reported effects of high-speed (say, 6x or higher), recordings in apparent sound are loss of fullness in the bottom-end and a meddling of the stereo image," though the BBC "found no appreciable sound difference when recording between 1x and 4x (but no faster)." Note that the source is STRL, U.K. distributor of TDK, Philips, and Neato products, and exercise your own judgment accordingly.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 12, 2006 2 comments
The HDMI interface promises to deliver high-def video and surround through one wire. But this potential garden of electronic delights is more a desert of frustration for anyone whose DVD player won't talk to a newly purchased HDTV. How to protect yourself? One thing to look for is Simplay certification from Simplay Labs, a subsidiary of Silicon Image, a major player (though not the only one) in the development of HDMI. There is of course a Simplay website and the featured products page lists a dozen Mitsubishi LCD panels and DLP projectors, four Thomson DLP rears, and a lone Sanyo 32-inch CRT. Covering mainly the HDCP content security system, Simplay may not be the final word in HDMI compatibility—among other things, it doesn't cover all potential audio-related issues—but it's a good start.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 11, 2006 1 comments
Teens love vinyl, says a Canadian researcher. A Ph.D. candidate who interviewed them for his dissertation found they love analog sound, respond to the visuals of big LP jackets, get a kick out of older music, and like all collectors, enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Surface noise? ¡No problemo! Their "active involvement in negotiating the pops, skips and crackles endemic to most second-hand records" was cited as part of the experience. And then there's rebellion, of course, something that every generation of kids is good at: "Through their retrogressive tastes and practices, these youth effectively disrupt the music industry's efforts to define and regulate their consumer identities," said the researcher, David Hayes. His findings were published in the Feb. 2006 issue of Popular Music and Society (though the text is not online).
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 10, 2006 1 comments
OK, let's tote up the recent wins for Steve Jobs. The trademark lawsuit from the Beatles is history. The music labels have renewed their 99-cent download arrangement with iTunes, amid much grumbling, even after Steve rejected their demand for variable pricing. The French parliament may be backing off its legislative requirement that iTunes downloads play on non-Apple devices. Disney is paying $7.4 billion for Pixar, of which Steve owns more than half, and he's got a seat on the board of directors, presumably alongside Mickey. The iPod is dominating the audio industry. Intel-driven Macs are being positioned for higher sales. Microsoft just can't seem to get its act together for the next generation of Windows. And whether or not Jobs ever gets to beat Bill Gates, he's already beaten an even meaner adversary, pancreatic cancer (God bless). I'll bet there aren't even any widows in his sock drawer.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 09, 2006 0 comments
Warner Bros. will distribute movies and TV shows through BitTorrent, essentially adapting a technology developed for file sharing to legal use. BitTorrent's "file swarming" technique does not download entire files from a central server. Instead it assembles a piece of content using bits from several other computers in an ad hoc network. The company's first step toward respectability came last year, when it removed illegal movie content and links from its site at the, uh, ah, request of the Motion Picture Association of America. Soon you'll be able to file-swarm new movie titles on the same date as the DVD release (price not announced) or TV shows for a buck. The download may either sit on your hard drive temporarily, for a single use, or be backed up to a DVD, though it would still play only on the PC that recorded it. Whether the rules will evolve is uncertain, and no one's given a start date, but the concept seems promising. The studios are already dipping their toes in other forms of digital home distribution.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 08, 2006 0 comments
Contrary to an earlier report, it looks as though France won't become the first nation to demand interoperability in music downloads and portable devices. A laudable copyright law revision has been not only watered down but totally negated. Among the key changes, the words translatable as "open standard" have been changed to "protected copy." If you're an attorney fluent in French, take a look at the proposed amendments from the Commission des Affaires culturelles. The committee's handiwork is already being cited as a victory for Apple, which had bitterly condemned the bill's original wording as "state-sponsored piracy" and a mortal threat to iTunes. The resistance is still resisting—see eucd.info and stopdrm.info—but the prospects for consumer-friendly legislation have deteriorated. The French senate is expected to vote by mid-month.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 05, 2006 1 comments
Like Adam and Eve, an iPod eventually nano comes to the realization that it must cover its nakedness. Guilt no doubt plays a role. After all, the nano feels embarrassed when scratched, knowing how its manufacturer rushed it into production without taking durability into account. And it must feel the glare of the bright spotlight of conspicuous consumption. Among the many products rushing in to clothe the modest little player is the iSkin Duo. Mine was a nano-sized case in turquoise and lime, but there's an iSkin to fit just about any iPod model, in a variety of bright colors, bringing touches of flamboyance to the white-or-black dichotomy of iPod design.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 04, 2006 2 comments
Blu-ray's official launch will be delayed from May 23 to June 20, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Prerecorded discs will be lying in wait by the original launch date. But Sony Pictures is holding them back to coordinate with the launch of Samsung's BD-1000 player. Samsung reported in April that the player was hung up on "compatibility testing." Sony's own BDP-S1 is not scheduled to come out until July, according to the Blu-ray website, though sonystyle.com is taking pre-orders for it. HD DVD got a lot of bad publicity for its stuttering launch. Looks like the shoe is on the other foot now, eh? Being a format war correspondent is fun!
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 03, 2006 2 comments
Today Bob Dylan makes his debut as DJ on XM Satellite Radio. He will host Theme Time Radio Hour, each installment organized around a different theme—today's theme is the weather. The New York Times ran a set list for next week's show, devoted to Mother's Day. More than a mere list of novelty songs, it demonstrates the deep and encyclopedic knowledge of roots music that has always informed Dylan's songwriting: Tommy Duncan, Buck Owens, Bobby Peterson Quartet, Ruth Brown, Carl Smith, Ernie K-Doe, Little Junior Parker, Jimmy McCracklin, and LL Cool J. The Times arched an eyebrow at LL Cool J. Perhaps the greying composer of "Positively 4th Street" is more sophisticated than the Grey Lady of West 43rd. Dylan will record the one-hour weekly show at home and on the road.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 02, 2006 2 comments
Daniel Barenboim is using his baton as a stiletto. The outgoing musical director of the Chicago Symphony has lashed out against Muzak in a BBC lecture series. Starting in the 1920s, Muzak pioneered the piped-in music that follows you around like a talkative acquaintance with bad breath. Barenboim called it "absolutely offensive" and declared, "active listening is essential." In response, the Muzak people compared their product to the works of Erik Satie, describing it as an "aural background" and a "mood enhancer." But the conflict here isn't between foreground and background listening. It's between music voluntarily perceived as music and music involuntarily endured as noise.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 01, 2006 2 comments
You order a DVD, then it's custom-made and shipped. That's the beauty of the new DVD on Demand service from Amazon, partnering with CustomFlix. Producers send DVD or tape masters, which are then placed on a secure server for ordering from the Amazon or CustomFlix sites. "Customers receive professional-quality DVDs in overwrapped, Amaray-style cases with full-color covers and lacquer-coated disc faces," says CustomFlix. There are two levels of distribution service: Independent Media Gateway for indies with fewer than 50 titles, and Enterprise Media Gateway for the big guns. The latter include NBC, PBS, A&E, the History Channel, and the Biography Channel. You'll be able to order Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from NBC and Nova from PBS, among other announced titles. Current releases are standard-def but in the future CustomFlix will support HD DVD, Blu-ray, and WMV-HD DVD. On-demand distribution systems generally trade a greater manufacturing cost per copy for the flexibility of replicating one unit at a time, so they're most suitable for small projects, like DWL Video's lovely epic on the 17 Year Cicada. A parallel cottage industry has grown up around on-demand book printing, including both my home theater guide and my restaurant guide.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 28, 2006 1 comments
Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association—who often looks like he needs a shave but is otherwise a perfectly respectable individual—is making a renewed push for HR1201. The Digital Media Consumers' Right Act of 2005 was introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) more than a year ago. The bill would directly write into law the Supreme Court's 1984 landmark Betamax Decision, which sanctioned recording for personal use. "For innovation and for consumer freedom, the doctrine originally announced in the Betamax case is the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence rolled into one," Shapiro declared in a press release from the Home Recording Rights Coalition. In a CEA press release based on Shapiro's remarks to a Cato Institute meeting, he also took some interesting shots at the presumed sacredness of copyright: "The content community has undertaken a slick public relations and positioning campaign to distort the law of copyright to make it seem as if it is a subset of the law of real property. What they totally ignore is that the United States Constitution accorded patents and copyrights a different treatment allowing Congress to grant patent and copyright terms for limited times.... It is not only intellectually disingenuous to treat copyright as a real property, it distorts the debate so that fair use becomes less relevant and consumer rights...become marginalized to the point of vanishing." If you'd like to put your oar in the water, please do.

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