Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Comcast Attempts To Block Netflix

It's pretty rare for me to ask my readers to sign a petition, but I encourage you to sign on to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee's petition to the FCC to stop Comcast from blocking Netflix's streaming movie service.

Net Neutrality sometimes seems like a pretty abstract concept. But here is a concrete example of why we want to maintain Net Neutrality. For $7.99 a month Netflix will allow you to stream unlimited movies into your home. We're not yet to the point where streaming offers the kind of selection or image quality I would want to abandon DVD and Blu-Ray, and Netflix service is not perfect (particularly if you are deaf or hard of hearing). But it's a good service that is still evolving, and offers good value, especially when compared to what cable companies like Comcast, Time/Warner and Cox offer.

Meanwhile, the cable monopolies are working under an outdated paradigm where you pay a lot of money ($50-$100 per month, or more!) to get a huge selection of stuff you will mostly never watch. And if you want to pick a movie to watch via cable, you get hit with an additional per-movie fee. So it's no surprise that cable companies like Comcast (who also have a stranglehold on broadband internet delivery) would not be pleased with the new model that Netflix has developed and would do anything in their power to stop it.

In essence, Comcast is attempting to block Netflix's streaming service by charging Netflix a new fee in order to maintain a commercial advantage over them for their own service. It's exactly the kind of predatory corporate behavior we need the FCC to protect consumers from, and hopefully with your urging they will. It's a question of who the internet belongs to. Does it belong to you and me, and should we be able to decide what content we want to access over it? Or does it belong to Comcast, Time/Warner and other big corporations, and should they get to decide how we use it?

For more details read Brian Stelter's report at the New York Times. Then sign the petition.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Wishniaks (Again)

I rarely re-post material, but I'm making an exception in this case. A few years back I posted a little story about my attempt to book the Philadelphia indie-rock band The Wishniaks at my college, and some of the, um, snags, I hit. I also posted one side of the band's 1988 double A-sided single "Wicked Pygmy Summer"/"Wishful Thinking." Since then I've noticed comments from people about how much they loved the band, gotten a few emails about them, and noticed a consistent number of google searches for the band leading to this site. So here it is again, back by popular demand and freshly re-ripped from 7" vinyl.

A track from the band's album Catch 33 was featured on the Little Hits blog, and you can find more information about the band there. I don't have a whole lot more to say about them than I did last time, other than that I wish they reached a wider audience than they did and I hope you enjoy these tracks. Oh, and I never did get to see them live.

Amazing New Product!

What would you say if I told you there was an amazing new way to organize your CD library with the help of a PC (Personal Computer)? Probably something along the lines of, "No shit, it's called iTunes and it's been around since 2001, welcome to the 21st Century moron."

Okay fine, I probably deserved that, but you didn't have to be so rude about it. But believe it or not, I wasn't referring to iTunes, Winamp, MediaMonkey, fobar2000, or any other digital media player. No, I'm talking about BesTradeUSA.com's DC101 and DC300 (dig those jet age names!) CD Library - Automatic CD storage/retrieval system. I was amazed to read about these products in this Sunday's Providence Journal (though I cannot find a trace of the article on projo.com, I swear I'm not making this up, you can find the same story at Vindy.com). The DC101 and DC300 are state of the art solutions to an age-old problem that no longer exists: how do you organize and catalog all your Compact Discs?

For me, the DC101 CD Organizer's name brings back not only unpleasant memories of the classic rock station I was forced to listen to on the school bus, but also a horrific plane crash in 1982. Visually, the DC101's subtly contoured edges recall the elegant slide projector carousels of yore, or perhaps a yogurt maker. BesTradeUSA describes the DC101 thusly:

"The CD Manager/Organizer/Finder allows you to categorize and manage (storage/retrieval) your CD/DVD/VCD/CD-R/DVD-RW titles (e.g. electronic books, financial data, images, photos, video, audio, ..etc). It's only limited by your imagination."
That's right, no more fumbling for your Barry White's All Time Greatest Hits CD to set the proper mood. The DC101 hooks up to your Personal Computer via a USB input, so just type in the name of the CD you want, and let the DC101 do the rest! Your new special lady (or gentleman) friend will not only be impressed by how organized your are, and your unimpeachable sense of style, but also your easy command of the latest technology. I'm not saying the DC101 will get you laid but....well, actually, yeah that is exactly what I'm saying.

If, like me, you own more than 150 CDs, you needn't worry, the DC101 has still got you covered because you can stack and daisy chain up to 127 of them, allowing you to store and organize over 19,049 discs! I imagine you'd need pretty high ceilings to stack 127 of these units one on top of the other, and for stability's sake I would recommend separating them into five stacks of 21 and one stack of 22, or better yet six stacks of 18 and one stack of 19 (better safe than sorry).

If you step up to the deluxe DC300 model, you gain direct keypad entry, a built in USB hub, and CDDB update. But that's not all you get! The DC300 conveniently pushes your Compact Disc out entirely for easy, fingerprint-proof retrieval. Now all you need is a robot to put the CD in your Compact Disc Player, and your life will be as easy as George Jetson's ("Boy Rosie, these nine hour work weeks are killing me!").

The DC300 is available in either elegant almond, or stunning gray, and like the DC101 it can be stacked and daisy chained up to 127 times. The DC300 looks like the actual slide projector to the DC101's carousel, and its simple solidity will let the world know that you are a person of substance.

I have seen the future and it is called the DC101/DC300 CD Library - Automatic CD storage/retrieval system.

When you purchase your DC101 or DC300 organizers, you might also want to check out BesTradeUSA's amazing SNAP SHOT 2110 Digital Camera with 2.1 Mega Pixels (!) and 1.5" LCD display while it is on sale for the low, low price of $199 (MSRP $399). As BesTradeUSA says, "Digital Your Memory."

Friday, November 19, 2010

This heaven gives me migraine

How many times must irony be murdered before it is well and truly dead?

The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure
The body is good business
Sell out, maintain the interest
Ideal love a new purchase
A market of the senses
Dream of the perfect life
Economic circumstances
Ideal love a new purchase
A market of the senses
Remember Lot's wife
Renounce all sin and vice
Dream of the bourgeois life
This heaven gives me migraine

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


So Apple's big news is you can now download the Beatles albums (stereo versions only) from the iTunes store. Finally, the world will get to hear these legendary albums in all their lossy compressed glory.

The only thing I can see that is remarkable about this is that the Beatles waited until the CD was an almost dead format to remaster their catalog. Now they've waited until downloads are almost irrelevant to make their catalog available that way.

And it's pretty lame that Apple hyped it by referencing a McCartney solo tune that John Lennon famously hated. I mean, I'm not one of these "John is God" and the "real" Paul died in 1967 guys, but come on.

Update: I just browsed through some of the reviews posted on iTunes. It seems some people are actually very excited about this. Here's are a couple sample reviews of the Yellow Submarine album:
"Holy Firetruck this is awesome!: Wow. It's been so long. I've waited for this moment feels like forever. My English teacher will be really happy when he finds out it's here!"
FINALLY!!!!!!: YES!!! YES!!! YES!!! They are finally selling the beatles on itunes!!!!!now this is sweet!!!!!
What am I missing here? Am I underwhelmed simply because I'm an old fart, and I've owned this music on 45 rpm singles, cassettes, LPs, CDs, etc. and loaded all the albums onto my iPod long ago? (That's a rhetorical question, I know the answer). It's never been hard to get the Beatles into iTunes or onto an iPod, you just couldn't buy it from the iTunes store until today. Why does this matter? Is it because you can now purchase "Hey Bulldog" without also having to buy "Pepperland Laid Waste"? I'm not just trying to be snarky here, I really don't understand the fuss.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Major iTunes Hype

If you go to Apple's homepage today you will be greeted by the message above about an "exciting announcement from iTunes" tomorrow at 10:00 AM Eastern. Despite my recent complaints about Apple and iTunes, I must tip my hat to them for their mastery of the art of hype. No one has any idea what what the big announcement will be, but that doesn't stop everyone from guessing. Apple does an amazing job of keeping things secret and only letting the public know about new products and features on their own terms. Also, no matter how many times these announcements fail to live up the advance hype, people always get worked up over the "next big thing" from Apple anyway.
Bonus SAT answer:

Lucy with football is to Charlie Brown as:
A) Steve Jobs with 'big announcement' is to Apple fans.
There's really only one thing that, in my opinion, could live up to this level of hype: the announcement of an "iTunes Cloud" service where people pay a monthly subscription fee that allows them to access the entire iTunes catalog. As downloads continue to fall well short of making up for the revenue that labels have lost over the past 10 years, it's become increasingly clear to me that the industry will eventually move toward some kind of subscription-based model. iTunes and Apple, with the world's largest digital catalog and the most popular hardware devices that could access a music cloud (iPhones, iPads, etc.), are ideally positioned to be the market leader when this shift occurs.

So if that is the announcement, it would legitimately constitute big news, and a day worth remembering. It would signal a seismic shift in the way pre-recorded music is distributed, and forever change our relationship to it. A music "cloud" would represent a far bigger shift, in my opinion, than the move toward downloads did, because with downloads you still "owned" something. Sure it wasn't something physical anymore, but--in theory at least--it still belonged to you. Once we move to a "cloud" access model, the idea of owning pre-recorded music will rapidly become an anachronism. It won't wipe record collector geeks like myself off the face of the planet in an instant, but it will make the hobby appear even more quaint and inconsequential than it currently does.

Of course given the "just another day" reference, Apple may just be planning to announce that you can download the Beatles catalog from iTunes, which would be quite lame and forgettable. (But would they really reference a Macca solo song to announce acquiring the rights to the Beatles catalog? If so, that sound you just heard was John Lennon rolling over in his grave.)

So will tomorrow be just another day when Steve Jobs pulls the football out from under us and leaves us lying on our backs cursing our gullibility, or will something really big happen? Either way, I once again tip my hat to Apple's spectacular ability to generate hype.

Update: All Things Digital says a "cloud" announcement is not likely given that contracts with music industry companies would have to be in place, and as far as anyone knows that hasn't happened yet. It's also not likely to be a more limited "cloud" that you can upload content you already own to, as the music industry has been arguing that such a service would also require a new contract. In short, given the number of players that would have to be involved, a cloud announcement just isn't something Apple could surprise us all with.

One last thought: Paul McCartney recently moved his solo catalog from EMI to Concord Music Group, so the announcement might have something to do with that. As a result, HD Tracks recently made Band On The Run available as a hi-rez (96 kHz/24 bit) FLAC download (allowing you to choose dynamically compressed and un-compressed versions). But audiophile Macca releases seem like something that would be of interest to too small a percentage of the population to qualify as a big announcement.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Soft Boys/Robyn Hitchcock Reissue News

IMPORTANT UPDATE (09/16/11): Please see my update on the reissue of Underwater Moonlight before considering purchase.

I have a couple items of news to report on The Soft Boys and Robyn Hitchcock reissues front.

As many of you probably know, The Soft Boys' two proper albums A Can Of Bees and Underwater Moonlight have been reissued by Yep Roc. The CD versions of both are currently available for sale.

I was a little disappointed to learn that all the bonus tracks for the two CDs are being made available only as lossy compressed (192 kps MP3) downloads. I understand making the bonus tracks download only, The Feelies did this with their recent reissues in order to retain the artistic integrity of the original albums, and I approved of the idea. So while I'm fine with download only bonus tracks in concept, I do wish Yep Roc had also made lossless audio versions available as an option (as was the case with the Feelies albums). Also, none of the bonus tracks would have been new to me, which is probably a good thing since I would have wanted to hear them in better than 192 kps quality.

None of this should prevent anyone who doesn't already own both albums from buying them in this configuration, but it does make them less attractive to long time fans and obsessive collectors of all things Hitchcock, Robyn such as myself.

But that doesn't quite close the door on The Soft Boys reissue front. Originally the vinyl reissues of the two albums were to have been sourced from 1993 DAT copies of the masters that had been prepared when the albums were reissued on CD by Rykodisc. But it appears that the resulting DAT sourced test pressings were judged sonically lacking by the golden-eared former Soft Boy and current vinyl enthusiast Morris Windsor. As Hitchcock relays in an email:

Hello dear vinyl-hunters,

Many apologies for the delay in getting the latest A Can Of Bees and Underwater Moonlight out to you. The LP test-pressings were sent over for Morris Windsor to check (as he has both a record-deck and ears that work well) and he felt that the cut was inferior to the originals (which he also has). We had been mastering from the 1993 DAT tapes, as the best reference source for these old recordings.

However, in the course of our conversations, Morris discovered an original production master (copy of the original mixes) of UM deep in his attic. This transpired to have the long-missing version of Old Pervert that graced the 1980 release of UM, amongst this uniquely surviving set of 1/4" mixes. This was like finding an ashtray in a pub these days: enchanted and wicked. So Morris FedExed (yes, it's a verb) the tape to the management office in LA where Richard Bishop (who had released the original UM 30 years ago on Armageddon Records) had the tapes baked. They go into a kind of pizza oven to prevent the ferric oxide falling off like liquorice.

At this point we decided to re-cut A Can Of Bees from a pristine vinyl copy. This was supplied by Geoffrey Weiss, a long-term music supporter in the quagmire of showbusiness; Geoffrey also kindly supervised the cut, along with Richard. The re-cuts were FedExed back to Morris who pronounced them very good. Morris is not given to hyperbole, and I have always favoured his judgement, when he gives it, over my own.

YepRoc have patiently waited for the improved LPs, and done their best to reassure anxious purchasers of these items who paid for them a while back and have seen nothing yet for their money. If you are amongst them, please again accept my apologies on behalf of the former Soft Boys, and I hope that the quality compensates in some way for the delay.

Best wishes from the old country,

Robyn Hitchcock

So, in short, the LP reissues of Underwater Moonlight and A Can Of Bees will be sourced from an original production master and a pristine vinyl copy respectively. For those not familiar with the terminology, a "production master" is a (typically first generation) copy of the original master tape that would have been used to cut the original LPs. I believe the original master tapes for both albums were lost long ago, so the discovery of a production master for Underwater Moonlight is very good news, especially in light of the fact the original LP version of "Old Pervert" has not to my knowledge graced any previous Underwater Moonlight reissue.

Some might be disappointed to learn that A Can Of Bees will be sourced from LP, but I do not find it hard to believe that a pristine copy of the LP would be the best sounding surviving source, easily surpassing the quality of a DAT copy made 17 years ago. If transferred using good quality equipment, the new LP should sound excellent (within the limitations of the original recordings, obviously). There is a certain stigma attached to sourcing reissues from LP, but I applaud Yep Roc and The Soft Boys for choosing the best sounding available source rather than relying on dogma to produce these LP reissues.

I also wanted to note that Wounded Bird Records is reissuing Robyn's 1996 solo album Moss Elixir as a two CD set with its companion album Mossy Liquor. This will mark the first time Mossy Liquor has been made available on the CD format, having been originally released only as a vinyl LP, and subsequently made available for digital download. I'm glad to hear that Mossy Liquor will be made available on CD in advance of the format's complete extinction. Personally, I will be holding onto my vinyl copy of the album until my own complete extinction.

In other, completely unrelated, Robyn Hitchcock news, my eight year old son Will spent the better part of the day yesterday in his bedroom listening to "The Man Who Invented Himself" over an over. He now has all the lyrics memorized, as do the other other occupants of our house, including our two cats. He also took a break from Scooby Doo and Gamera videos to watch the I Often Dream of Trains in New York DVD with me. He declared "Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus" his favorite (or perhaps favourite) song on the album. I'm thinking if he memorizes the lyrics of that one, he can perform them for his grandparents this Christmas.