Saturday, 5 July 2008

Cloud or Mesh. Relational or Heirachical. Highly Distributed Logical Data Centres

As you know I'm really interested in how web applications are going to be architected as the internet age moves on. One of the dichotomies I'm trying to resolve in my mind is how data is stored with highly distributed applications.
What do I mean by distributed? For the purposes of this post let's just assume this means an application that is accessible from different devices, and is not bound to a single machine. Classically, this is a web site, or a client application that uses some kind of API to store data on the web.



Seems that the approach up until recently was to store your data on servers in a co-lo or dedicated data centre. Meaning that as an application developer and/or operations dude I have to scale my application based on physical architecture I know about. Generally as my app scales that means I need, eventually, to horizontally scale my database across more than one logical database. This is not straightforward, and even with the introduction of Hibernate Shards I really need to think about that. And this probably means I'm going to denormalize my database and have to work out how to synchronize some of the data I'm storing across these different logical DBs.


It strikes me though that with "cloud storage", things like Amazon SimpleDB, or Google's App Engine, that I may want to start with a herichacal database that is denormalized by default. No more Joins. I guess we've had this option for a long time with things like Oracle Objects, but seriously, have you as a developer ever tried to use that beast? Not fun. Google and Amazon (and soon Microsoft, with Sql Server Data Services) will have solved that "synchronize data in a denormalized logically partitioned database in many data centres" problem for me. So should I start by using that approach? Should I offload my database to these guys and just pay transactionally for what I do? This means a significant mindset change for me, I'm so used to drawing out relational diagrams, and I'm so used to using ORM or other mapping tools to abstract me from that. I need to change my mindset to think differently. But I guess the benefit of this approach is that from the beginning, provided these big guys aren't lying to me, I have an app that will scale, that will respond consistently, is backed up and disaster-resistant and that I only need to pay for on demand. This is Goodness.


Can't help thinking that this approach still requires a bunch of datacentres, the associated power and this, as an app developer, will have an eventual cost for me.


This brings me to Mesh, or Grid computing. If you're reading this, your PC is on right now, and, as I am using Blogger to host my blog, you're pulling data back from Google. Now, I don't have the worlds most read blog, I don't get thousands of hits a second, but still, for everyone who has read this blog there's a good chance that all this text is cached on their machines. And it's originated from the machine that I type this on.


You're familiar with swarm based file sharing right? Where somebody seeds a file, and then others leech it, and when they have downloaded it, they become another seed on the network? Indeed they can start sharing partial data as soon as they've downloaded it? There's no central store of this data, just some metadata that tracks where the bits are. This is how BitTorrent works (and indeed, how the BBC iPlayer works in offline mode, which is why they ask you to dedicate 20GB of hard drive space)


Why don't we have this approach for other forms of application?

I envisage a future where logical heirachical databases are partitioned across end nodes, such as the PC you're reading this on, and where your PC can take part in large map/reduce calculations, and that (best of all) you can have your PC and broadband for free, because application developers are renting space on it.

Google and Amazon are busy building out compute and storage in the cloud with all their data centres, for which they have to pay for power. Good for them. But, TELCOS already have the makings of a grid which could, with some clever software compete with all this, and at a much lower cost base.

In my house I have a BT Home Hub. This is a wireless router, and connects back to the internet through BT as my ISP. What's more, it's just an embedded Linux Device. Further, unlike my PC, I tend to leave it on the whole time. There's also enough space in it to throw in a hard drive, or some solid state storage. It could act as a node in this grid I'm envisaging. It could even negotiate with the PCs connected to it and utilise their storage and CPU.

BT could give this to me - for free - and then charge back to application developers the cost of storage and compute. Without the need to ever build data centres, and offloading the cost of all the power required to run server farms.

I understand that there are issues around latency, concurrency, routing, and a whole bunch of other problems to solve. But I reckon, that rather than attempting to replicate the approach that Amazon and Google and a host of others are doing, telcos should concentrate on taking their existing deployed Customer Premise Equipment assets and building out storage, compute and content distribution based on this.

What do you think? Am I in cloud cuckoo land again?

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

No Mouse or Keyboard detected - press F1 to continue

I've been wondering how much longer the vast majority of people who use computer based equipment will continue to use a mouse and keyboard as their primary input devices.

iPhone users, you probably know what I mean already, huh?

While the keyboard has served us well, and the mouse is great for pointing and clicking, neither of them strike me as intuitive interfaces for deeply immersive user interfaces; and that's probably because of the misdirection involved in using them. When I type at my PC, I look at the screen. My fingers tap away at a keyboard, and it is only through years of practice (and of classical piano training) that I can manage to reconcile, fast, the fact that the input device requires separate neural processing to the output device.

Likewise with the mouse. For navigating around two dimensional, hypertextually linked applications, it's OK I guess, but as soon as I want to attempt to draw something, or zoom in on an image or a section of the screen I'm a bit stuck, and have to often co-ordinate keyboard and mouse to make things work. Mac users (least, those who haven't bothered to get a two key mouse) know this more than most - press CTRL for right click? Who thought that up? I understand that the Mac is partly about making simple tasks simple, but I reckon most people can grok at an intuitive level the concept of "left click for action, right click for context".

Saying that, I've never quite mastered the middle button on a mouse, except when it serves as a wheel as well. What was that third button for? It's like the third pedal on a piano you occasionally come across. What the hell is that for? Never saw a piece of music that refers to it in 14 years of classical training, or since.

I digress. I saw this little Minority-Touch-esque video yesterday and wondered if the time is right yet to reposition my career as a "Multi Dimension & Multi Touch Interface Human Design Specialist"

That's a career which doesn't yet exist. But it will.

Now naysayers will come along and tell me that they don't anticipate that they'll ever stop typing. Folk were loath to leave quill and ink behind too. I must admit, I don't quite know what will replace my 70+ words per minute typing speed with something that doesn't require me to dictate (still haven't got my head round that one, not for want of trying - the words seem to flow better when I type, and I don't have to go back and delete all the "ums" and "erms" and "ahs")

But what I do know is that the amount of time I spend interacting with data visually is increasing.

I love my Squeezebox, it's a great way of getting audio round the house without having to run computers or hard drives in the front room. The next version, the Squeezbox Duet has this great remote control which allows me to navigate by album cover. The remote itself is a Wi-Fi enabled device. (I'll post more on exposing your music collection over the internet using SqueezeCenter another time)

Squeezebox Duet Network Music System

But it's still not quite CoverFlow-As-Remote-Control. And CoverFlow still sucks at letting me browse through my extensive (3000+ albums) digital music collection

Now, what I want is an interface that looks like a CD collection, but in glorious Multi-D. Where I can navigate it based on all manner of factors, Where I can Zoom in Deep. Where I can move from one "room" to another. Where I can jump straight to an artists web site. Or all manner of interactions when I treat items in my music collection as Social Objects. And where I can manage this on a number of devices, from a wall mounted screen, to a PDA, to a headset based experience (you have to check this out)

Over the last decade and a half of my career in software I've been building flat, boring user interfaces, either for the web, or for the desktop. The next generation is not gonna be happy with that. They will expect their over-specced, highly connected, under-priced equipment to do more for them than that. They'll be comfortable with augmented reality (and may even be as lost without their overlay glasses as they are today without their mobile phones). They'll be over the concept of "media ownership" and will expect things to be shareable. Like playing pong over multiple iPhones

I know for a fact that there are not nearly enough User Experience (UX) specialists in the world. And this is probably because all the stuff beneath the UX, stuff to do with data persistence, graphics rendering engines, networks, systems integration etc, has been more than enough for the world of Software Engineers for the last 15 years or so. But I forsee a world coming, and soon, where many of the Hard Data Problems all start to disappear, and where aggregation and rendering of these ceases to happen server side, and instead, it will be smart, graphically rich clients, with multi-touch interfaces bringing it all together in the user experience. What is a software guy to do? Well, until the tools and frameworks are at a high enough level that anyone can build those experiences, I think there is still work for us.

So, blogosphere, if I were to reinvent myself as a "Multi Dimension & Multi Touch Interface Human Design Specialist" where should I start? What should I read? What should I be learning? Bear in my mind that I have very little graphic design experience, and it's not really prettifying stuff that interests me, it's in making things usable in ways we are not yet familiar.

Here's some more things that inspire me in this space

Silverlight Deep Zoom

3D in Flash v.Next

onorientationchange

multitouch in javascript

Microsoft LaserTouch

Project Looking Glass (seems dormant?)

What do you think? Ask yourself again at the end of a day of RSI inducing activity

Sunday, 15 June 2008

shattered_and_emotional.mp3

Download/listen here (100Mb or so)

It's been an interesting week. After bouncing back and forth across the pond several times this year, I took a week more or less out to rest; it was well needed and I feel very refreshed and ready to pick up the pace again tomorrow morning.

Amazing what happens when you take time for yourself. Things open up sometimes and opportunities occur that you just don't see when you're moving headlong at an air speed of 500 miles an hour. Let's just say that, partly due to a funeral I attended this week (mostly to support close friends), there has been some unexpected, emotional honesty that has, frankly, made me feel a whole lot better about life and myself. Not gonna say any more at this point, I'll leave it cryptic for now. Those involved will know what I mean. Things still need to work themselves out, and I'm in no real hurry, even though a good part of me is impatient to get to a denouement.

Anyway, I woke up this morning, and the sun was out. I packed the car with swimming things, we set off to pick up one of my daughters friends, to spend the day jumping in and out of the River Dart, and then, this being a British Summer, naturally the heavens opened and started to drench us. River trip cancelled. I can't complain too much, most of the last week was fabulous and sunny.

So home we come, and I decided to do a mix. I've had a couple in mind, one of sorta funky summery kind of tracks - the rain did for any funkful inspiration I may've had today. Another mix has been pending of kinda lurve songs - but that just didn't feel quite right to do today either, for one reason and another.

So I did a mix of purely electronic tunes. Broken beats, occasional stilted lyrics, shattered melodies. Once or twice you might feel like dancing. You might feel like getting weepy. You might barely recognise some of this as music. There are frenetic moments, still moments, and almost everything in between.

This is not music you're likely to hear in the clubs, or on the radio. Maybe if you're in a chill out room in Germany...

I wonder if my regular listeners will struggle with this one, perhaps more than the showtunes of a while back. Though it would be for completely different reasons.

If you like it, let me know! If you don't, it's fine for you to keep your opinions to yourself, thank you very much. I do these mixes mostly for my own self indulgent purposes.

shattered

StartArtistTrackAlbum
00:00Matmos
In the Master BedroomA Viable Alternative to Actual Sexual Contact
05:45FreeformDiceAlt. Frequencies
13:23AGF+DelayThe Return of UsElectric Ladyland Clickhop Version 1.0
17:23MRIData BoogieAll that Glitters
23:55Telefon Tel AvivFarenheit Far Enough (Prefuse 73 Bonus Beats remix)Immediate Action #08
27:02Si BeggEnglandDirectors Cut
31:26TussRushup I Bank 12Rushup Edge
36:02ClarkNight KnucklesBody Riddle
39:41TrioskIntensives LebenThe Headlight Serenade
45:55B FleischmannPhones and MachinesThe Humbucking Coil
50:48Christain KleineQuentinBeyond Repair
56:00Global GoonLong WhineyCradle of History
59:42BurialPiratesBurial
65:34Susumu YokotaTears of a PoetGrinning Cat

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Death of Technology Without An Interesting Name?

 

Microsoft have, in their wisdom, decided that all scanners and similar image acquisition devices need to support Web Services, with an obviously named protocol - WS-Scan.

Go. Figure.

Does this mean we will see TWAIN no more?

From the MSFT press release:

This collaboration is a response to customer and industry interest in having the WS-Scan Service Schema mapped directly to the PWG Scan semantic model,” said Jack Mayo, group program manager with the Windows Experience team at Microsoft. “The benefit to customers will be making great scanning solutions for Windows-based interoperable with other platforms. The ability to make interoperable solutions will also greatly reduce the development burden on the PWG partner companies.”

So the only reason I posted this is because TWAIN is one of my all time favourite acronyms, commonly, if unofficially, understood to stand for Technology Without An Interesting Name. And I don't normally find reasons to refer to that. Seemingly pointless MSFT initiatives don't really worry me that much.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

inadequacy.mp3

Download or stream from here. about 91Mb

I started out thinking I'd do something happy, given that it's May, and at least in the northern hemisphere summer is approaching. Think we in the UK have our summer on the third Wednesday of the month normally.

Thought it'd be happy. But ended up somewhat different. Maybe it's just me.

No particular blurb, but if you've made mistakes, screwed up, or just felt wrong this mix may just resonate.

Or you may think, once again, that my taste in music is odd and just completely worth ignoring. You're probably grateful that at least it isn't more showtunes!

Comments on what you like or don't like are more than welcome

TimeTrackArtistSource
00:00CodaKramerThe Guilt Trip
01:33Don't Tell Me I'm Wrong (But You AreImitation Electric PianoTrinity Neon
05:35ApologiesJames FigurineMistake Mistake Mistake
11:17No-one's Wrong (Giricocola)Scout NibbletI Am
15:31Nine Plan FailedAdam and the AntsDirk Wears White Sox
20:41One Step Inside Doesn't Mean You UnderstandNotwistNeon Golden
23:54In At The Beep EndP P RoyYou Can't Help Liking
26:45This Is All WrongStyrofoamSplit 7" with Dntel
31:42ForgiveThe Living JarboeDisburden Disciple
37:46What Is WrongTrickyVulnerable
41:16The DownsMinotaur ShockRinse
45:54All Your Women ThingsSmogDoctor Came At Dawn
52:30A Voice At The End Of The LineM WardTransfiguration of Vincent
54:40Suicide Is PainlessKate Earl & Bardi JohannsonLady & Bird
57:30LordyLow & Dirty ThreeIn the Fishtank
61:02I Dare To HopeKing MissileFailure
TailCoda (repeated)KramerThe Guilt Trip

4:20 4/20

On a recent trip to San Francisco I found myself strolling round Golden Gate Park with a friend at exactly this time, as part of the Earthday celebrations.

Or at least so I was led to believe.

Turns out that at this time, on this day, in this location a number of like minded individuals gather to meet and celebrate. It was quite a thing to behold. After being part of the celebrations for a while, even the drumming circle managed to sound cogent.

I took a short video of the event, on my phone, so I'm afraid the quality isn't great. Nevertheless, I thought I'd share, I'm sure you'll get the idea.


Wednesday, 23 April 2008

RickRolling the Phone Network at Web 2.0 Expo

I built a little demo for Web 2.0 that rick rolls the phone network. If you haven't come across rickrolling, the basic concept came about when people started getting sent links to the below Rick Astley video


Most annoying. Some of the implementations refused to let you close the browser window as well.

Well, I thought that for the Web 2.0 Expo I'd do that to the phone network, and try and get folk to rickroll each other. So in a midnight-through 3am coding session, I came up with a cool app.

If I haven't taken it down yet (that'll happen on Friday 25th April) you can try it.

Just send an SMS with the word "rick" to +447800000320

If it's still working you'll get called back - press a key, and then you'll get the dulcet tones of Rick Astley crooning at you across the phone network.

So, how did I build this?

Using, of course, the fabulous Web21C services from BT, and CallFlow in particular.

I used a YouTube downloader to pull the Video down, and extract an mp3 file from the flv file. Then used Sony Acid Pro 6 to edit it and convert it to a suitable format (open source products such as Audacity may be used!).

I uploaded to the CallFlow platform the resulting wav file, rick.wav, and another one, press.wav. They need to be there so that they can be played back to the poor victim over the phone line.

Then I got hold of an Inbound SMS (Mobile Originated) number from my colleagues; if you want to use this service you have to register, and order a number through the web site. But once you've got it, implementing the rest of the code is dead easy, and will run off your laptop!

Wanna see some of the code? Here's some of the highlights. Written in C#, as a console app; BT has SDKs for Python, PHP, and Java too.

1. Retrieve messages and clear them down from the BT servers

Collection<Message> messages = smsIn.GetReceivedMessages();
Collection<string> mIds = new Collection<string>();

foreach (Message m in messages)
{
RickRoll(m.MessageText, m.SenderUri);
mIds.Add(m.MessageId);
}
if (mIds.Count > 0) smsIn.ClearReceivedMessages(mIds);

2. The highlights of the RickRoll function, creating some XML for placing the call.


//create the callflow XML
StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder();
sb.Append("<?xml version=\"1.0\" encoding=\"UTF-8\"?>");
sb.Append("<callflow xmlns=\"http://sdk.bt.com/callflow/2007/04\">");
sb.Append(String.Format("<call id=\"start\" target=\"{0}\" next=\"check\" />", roll.Target));
sb.Append("<prompt id=\"check\" audio=\"press.wav\" barge=\"true\" firstDigitTimeout=\"30\">");
sb.Append("<input pattern=\"0\" next=\"prank\"/>");
sb.Append("<input pattern=\"1\" next=\"prank\"/>");
sb.Append("<input pattern=\"2\" next=\"prank\"/>");
sb.Append("<input pattern=\"3\" next=\"prank\"/>");
sb.Append("<input pattern=\"4\" next=\"prank\"/>");
sb.Append("<input pattern=\"5\" next=\"prank\"/>");
sb.Append("<input pattern=\"6\" next=\"prank\"/>");
sb.Append("<input pattern=\"7\" next=\"prank\"/>");
sb.Append("<input pattern=\"8\" next=\"prank\"/>");
sb.Append("<input pattern=\"0\" next=\"prank\"/>");
sb.Append("<input pattern=\"#\" next=\"prank\"/>");
sb.Append("<default next=\"unprank\"/>");
sb.Append("</prompt>");
sb.Append(String.Format("<announcement id=\"prank\" audio=\"{0}.wav\" />",roll.Prank));
sb.Append("<hangup id=\"unprank\" />");
sb.Append("</callflow>");


//Call BT's Callflow Service and place the call
roll.CallFlowId= callFlow.StartCallFlow(sb.ToString());

There really isn't very much more to the code - a bit that monitors each callflow to check that the phone was answered - the script does a "Press 1 if you're not an answerphone" check


The entire code is downloadable here - you won't be able to run it straight of the bat, because of it's reliance on an inbound SMS number tied to my account, and certs referenced in a config file - get your own from BT - but it may be interesting to read.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Small Businesses and IT

One thing that I am 100% convinced of, is that over the course of the second half of 2008 a new class of application will begin to emerge in anger. Rather than being based on an underlying Single Machine Operating System, it will be composed of “cloud” services.

So where EC2 and S3 provide compute units and storage in the cloud, the next stage is to compose higher level functionality into cogent solutions, and no longer worry, from a development platform, what Single Machine Operating System lives underneath. The platforms to support these are currently divergent – Force.com , Google AppEngine, the platform that MSFT are clearly about to launch – these allow you to create generic functionality on fully hosted platforms, but from a 50,000 foot view they provide automatically scaled out, redundant platforms, generally with storage, data, and UI components.

Add a bit of Google Gears, or Microsoft FeedSync, two different techniques for occasionally connected apps (and, the piece often forgotten, occasionally unavailable Platforms-In-The-Cloud!)

Mix in a bit of Hosted Exchange, which you can buy from all over the place, or Google Calendar.

Throw in some oAuth and OpenID for decentralised delegation and authentication.

Add some hosted IVR or SMS from solutions like that from my employer, and you too can have CTI like the big players.

And it looks like the applications that SMBs will buy in 2008/2009 will look very different to the ones they bought in 2007.

This leads me to the conclusion that both sales and reward, and software development processes for small ISVs will start to look very different from today's models. Instead of on-premise based software, or even ISV hosted solutions, generic, composable mashups will be assembled from cloud based primitives through an oDesk type model (no more staffing issues!), and then “mashups of mashups” will probably get sold through a network of affiliates who do highly localised (both geographically and vertically) marketing and the small amount of custom integration work – which will be largely graphical – required for an end customer. Reward models could be based on subscription payments from end customers, and revenue share to the affiliate channels

The problem is working out which generic functionality, and which SMB verticals to address first!

Are you an SMB? Would you like me to come and build you some software? What's the itch you have that needs scratching? Which of your staff could be replaced by a clever machine? How can you empower your customers to interact with your business in ways that benefit both you and them?

Trust me, small business software is easier, quicker, and less risky then it used to be. If you want to know more, I can be reached, in the first instance through this blog.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Nicest Airport Experience Ever

I'm in Israel for Microsoft TechEd where I'm speaking with a friend of mine, Shy Cohen.

Microsoft have really done their best to make me welcome here. As I stepped out of the door of the plane at Ben Guiron airport in Tel Aviv, there was a friendly chap waiting for me (first time I've ever been met by a stranger with my name on a piece of paper), who escorted me past all the queues for immigration, wheeled my luggage through customs and got me across to the domestic terminal.

Now OK, I've got a 4 hour wait for my next flight south to Eliat, which is dull, but, joy of joys, there is FREE Wi-fi in the airport terminal. And I think I'm the only person using it, as the terminal is largely empty; today is the Sabbath and it seems this is taken pretty seriously around here.

Next to find somewhere to plug the power in - this may be a little trickier... I hope I brought a suitable power adapter.

Monday, 17 March 2008

just how long is that?

File this one under ridiculous packaging and promises.

I just went into my local Woolworths to buy a few blank DVDs. Fair play to them, they sell packs of 4 for just 99p (that's about $2 to you Amereekans). I didn't want many, and at 25p each that's about the same price as a cigarette.

Which makes them nicely disposable in my book. Not the best for the environment, but they get scratched and ruined so quickly.

Except, it appears, for these ones. These value, WorthIt!, twenty five pence each DVDs comes complete with a lifetime guarantee. HOWEVER - nowhere on the packaging does it say what this lifetime guarantee really is. Here's some options for me.

As long as I live.

As long as the person I give the disk to lives.

As long as the DVD+R format exists (or at least, is relevant)

Until each DVD no longer works, and has reached End Of Life.

howlong

I suspect that the truth is the last of those options - in other words - each of these DVDs is good for as long as it's good for. Not really much of a promise, is it?

Sunday, 16 March 2008

showtime.mp3

Listen here

Yesterday I went to my daughters end of term performance at her Saturday afternoon drama club. She had a solo singing spot, and performed great. I'm a proud father.

They changed the format this time; normally they invite the parents to come an hour before the end of the three hour session for the show. This time parents and other associated family arrived at the very start, and, after the kids had done all their performing, classes started - children and parents. At the end, we performed in front of each other.

I got to play Billy Elliot! As I'm about 12 or so years over being embarrassed about performing in front of others, even if I make a complete tit of myself, I had such fun! We did the scene where Billy stays after the boxing class, and the girls come in for ballet. He joins in and dances. You have no idea how much I enjoyed saying "I feel like a complete sissy" in a totally camped up faux northern accent. I'd jump at the chance to do it again. Wish my life was stable enough for amateur dramatics, but I'm just away too much for that.

I got home and felt happily theatrical. Which led to this mix

Let me share a guilty secret with you. I love musicals. I love musical theatre. I grew up on a steady diet of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan, Andrew Lloyd Webber etc, which was pretty much the closest I got to music, outside of church and school, until about 1981, when I was about 9 or 10. My dad got given a a portable AM/FM radio cassette recorder when he changed jobs. Joy Of Joys! I promptly discovered the top 40. Not long after, John Peel. The rest is emerging history.
I guess my parents weren't really that into the music of the seventies, and certainly didn't have the money to buy much music, nor the inclination to borrow-and-tape, even on to the Philips reel to reel thing we had. (I loved that machine, it was the one thing in the house I would've saved in a fire)

7th June 1977, I remember being nearly 4 years old, at the Queens Silver Jubilee. There was a pig on a spit getting roasted. Some country dancing, with a caller and everything. I got my photo on the cover of the local paper, wrecking the hay bales that had been put out in place of seats; I guess someone thought I was cute (hmm). Before we went to this do, we watched The Sound of Music on the telly. This must have been in the brief interval after the first TV I remember turned up in the house and I pushed it over and broke it. Made me very unpopular.

I'd hardly seen any TV at my tender age, and I was amazed by this movie. I couldn't believe it. I probably couldn't understand it very well, all the political drama centred around the Nazi invasion of Austria. But the songs! The dancing! The lonely goatherds! It remains to this day one of my favourite movies, and anyone who thinks they're too hip or cool to watch it should just get over themselves. It's a fantastic movie, right from the opening scene - such great cinematography - which is filmed in one take from a helicopter flying over the Alps, and zooming into Julie Andrews twirling around on the greenest grass you ever did see and singing the title track. And the moment when The Captain gets back with the Baroness Schraeder from Vienna, has a massive fight with Maria, then hears the children singing, and (thanks to a little soft focus) you see his heart first breaking and then righting itself as he realises what a crap father he's been since the death of his wife. Oh, and that he loves the children's governess of course. My eyes water every time. Sorry if this factoid makes you grimace, I cry at movies sometimes, okay?

This was my introduction to the world of musicals. I haven't looked back. I watch them on the TV, occasionally at the theatre. I listen to the music, I play the piano and sing. I share them with my little girl. Good family entertainment - even the potential atrocity that is High School Musical is partly saved by a good show tune or two - I just about see past cheesy, squeaky clean American teenagers with a song or two in the mix

So this mix covers a bunch of musicals. I've added to the mix some other music from the movies and TV that I like too. You'll know a whole bunch of these tunes, they're stuck in our collective musical memory. Don't feel shy about singing along.

You can grab it from here (90 Mb). Enjoy the guilty pleasure.

TimeTrackWriterShow
00:00OvertureRodgers and HammersteinSouth Pacific
03:00Numa no Soko no le (The House at Swamp Bottom)Joe HisaishiSpirited Away
04:24Part of Your WorldAlan Menken and Howard AshmanThe Little Mermaid
07:35BarbarellaBob Crewe & Charles FoxBarbarella
10:20Enjoy ItThe Sherman BrothersIn Search of the Castaways
12:27With a Little Bit of LuckFrederick Lowe and Alan Jay LernerMy Fair Lady
16:16Cry BabyMorgan C. Robinson and Lawrence RobinsonCry Baby
19:24Pure ImaginationLeslie Bricusse and Anthony NewleyWilly Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
23:24Who Will Buy?Lionel BartOliver!
30:26White HorsesMichael carrWhite Horses
32:41The Fairy Godmother Song

Adamson, Barton, Dohrn, Gregson-Williams, Smith & Warner

Shrek 2
34:24Bad GuysPaul WilliamsBugsy Malone
36:28Everybody Wants to be a CatFloyd Huddleston and Al RinkerThe Aristocats
38:27Florence's Sad Song (covered by Stuart Staples and Dave Boucher)Joss Baselli and Eric ThompsonDougal and the Blue Cat
41:03It's Not the End of the World (If He's Married)Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Don BlackTell Me On A Sunday
43:14There are Worse Things I Could DoJim Jacobs and Warren CaseyGrease
45:27Theme TuneLaurie JohnsonThe Avengers
47:43Good Night and Thank YouAndrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim RiceEvita
51:59I Have ConfidenceRichard Rodgers (no Hammerstein on this one!)The Sound of Music
55:19Are We Dancing?The Sherman BrothersThe Happiest Millionaire
58:41Hushabye MountainThe Sherman BrothersChitty Chitty Bang Bang
60:32La Valse d'Amelie (version piano)Yann TiersenLe Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain
63:05All the Animals come out at NightBernard HerrmanTaxi Driver

Saturday, 15 March 2008

please sir, can i write some code?

It's really been one of those weeks.

I am a developer by heart. Let's get that straight. I'm not a world class software engineer, I'm too lazy, and my attention span too short, but ultimately I like to get my hands dirty with code and pretend I'm smart. Sometimes people even politely suspend their disbelief.

So what it is it I do? Let's look at a few of the activities for the past week.

I've been at home (which accounts for a mere 50% of my life), and that does colour the week that I've had. I got to spend more time with my daughter, which is what it's all about really, isn't it.

I did some technical due diligence and analysis for a bunch of stuff around partners, competitors etc. This is quite interesting. I get to reverse engineer technical architectures and stuff. Sometimes I get to see the guts closely, sometimes I just search for blogs from the target companies employees. Often a lot of clues to be found there.
Some vague, back-of-a-napkin design work required sometimes with this too. I like that very much.

I tried to get my opinion across with respect to how we identify and "upskill" some of the developer types in the company. Finding myself largely ignored. Getting increasingly frustrated, and showing it, emails becoming much more terse by today. Not fun. Not part of the day job, officially, but I do it because someone has to try, and I got suckered into it. I have some collaborators, who I think are equally frustrated. Rinse and Repeat. Some stains don't want to come out.

Some unwanted "out of the blue" work, trying to justify a renewal for a bunch of developer tools from a very large vendor. There is a fair amount of money involved if the numbers are right. There is a fair amount of money involved if the numbers are wrong. This is hard work, and frustrating too. It's not fun either, nor is it part of what I'm paid - or bonused -to do.

Writing, and reviewing the written word. Some PR, some academic papers, some wiki material. Lots of email of course. This part of life I quite like. Mostly this is the day job. Plus, words are fun. Words are powerful. When I write, people don't realise I am a scruffy zippy with (ahem) fairly eclectic taste in music. (Or a blog named after a saying attributed to the founder of the Hashashin).
What was it they say about the pen and the sword? Most of you probably haven't read the whole quote, so here it is

True, This! —
Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! — itself a nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the Cæsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! — Take away the sword —
States can be saved without it!

Writing rocks. It shocks me how often otherwise smart people fail with basic spelling and grammar, but I've learnt to see past that in them.

Anyway, I've had one of those weeks, where I've jumped from pillar to post, never had the chance to concentrate on anything deeply for long

I did manage to write some code this week - well, I've written it, just need to tidy it a bit, and deploy it. Hopefully you see the results on here next week. The code needs to be cleaned and refactored and commented for that. As you can imagine, it involves the phone. You'll see. It's not that clever, but the code base is not that big either.

I also worked out the code I need to write for an upcoming presentation I'm doing at TechEd Israel (site in Hebrew). It's gonna be fun.

I'd like to code more often. Please sir, can I write some code?

broken windows

Got caught over the weekend with a broken Vista installation. The Cyclic Redundancy check on my hard drive seemed to fail (boot stuck at crcdisk.sys).

Attempted to boot into to safe mode, no better. Sticks at the same place.

Booted with a Vista Installation disk, and did the Shift+F10 trick to fire up a command prompt at the "choose your drive" screen. Ran chkdsk, with all repair options switched on, still no bootee. I can read the files off the disk from the command window, but Vista doesn't like the drive really.

Booted from the Vista install disk again, Shift+F10, attempted to do a System Restore. No luck.

Did the same again, Booted from a Knoppix Live CD, ran ntfsfix. More errors discovered on the disk, but still no joy.

Thanks so much for protecting

I will never - repeat never - spend more than 90 minutes attempting to fix broken Windows. it's faster to rebuild from the tin. Fortunately, I expect Windows to break (normally it's me wot breaks it), every so often so I have reasonably good data backup strategies, starting with separate partitions on a hard drive for "temporary things" like operating systems and "things to keep", like all the stuff in my TrueCrypt files

I did a full format, and zero filled the partition a couple of times at the same time. I have no idea what detritus may be lurking.

Didn't have a slipstreamed Vista SP1 disk handy. So I'll be rebuilding again soon, I keep promising I'll make myself a disk image for rapid reinstalling. You know, one file with Vista SP1, all the drivers for my machine, Office 2007, user account control turned off and various other tweaks that make it actually an O/S that I like to use (go on, flame me), and one that will work with my companies various security tools too.

Anyone else feels like doing a similar thing, making your own custom Vista installation is pretty easy. Start from instructions here.

So I think I end up doing another build this weekend. But at least this will get me a clean machine..

Saturday, 8 March 2008

girls_that_glitch.mp3

It's been a few weeks since I last provided my few dear readers with some music to bemuse and delight.And I hope this new offering won't disappoint.

Girls that Glitch.

Glitch Music, for those who haven't come across it, is a genre all it's own. Here's what wikipedia has to say on the matter:

"The origins of glitch music are derived from the failure of digital technology. The effects of failure in technology, such as bugs, crashes, system errors, hardware noise, skipping and audio distortion, can be captured on computers and provide the basic building blocks of Glitch music"

I like the definition. Suits a good amount of this music, but I'm sure a glitch purist, should any exist, would say I'm stretching the genre with this selection. Fair enough, some tracks have real drums. I never really stick with one thing long anyway, I like to twist and shake, and maybe surprise a little once in a while. My favourite time to play music to people is after a party, when everyone's knackered, maybe too wasted one way or another to get a conversation together, and happy to be taken to strange and unexpected musical places.

I've included female voices on every single track. I reckon that glitch music is something which it's obvious for geeks to make, male geeks at that. With this selection I try to show that when you add a girl's voice to glitchy music, it can provide the opportunity to create tunes that are fragile, delicate, and feel like they are just on the verge of breaking.

I think that's what you get here. Cracked, digital rhythms, combined with melancholy melodies, and strange haunting electronic noises. All brought afloat with different touches of femininity. And the occasional wander to slightly safer pastures.

I hope you enjoy it. Grab it from here (106 Mb mp3)

Let me know what you think, so I can completely ignore your feedback when thinking of what to do next

image

StartArtistTrackAlbum
00:00Susanna and the Magical Orchestra -
Hello List of Lights and Buoys
03:51PsappHiThe Only Thing I Ever Wanted
07:37Brisa RochéAt The ShoreThe Chase
10:42Piano MagicWrong FrenchPopular Mechanics
16:01Justine ElectraPresidentSoft Rock
21:01Dntel featuring Jenny WilsonRoll OnDumb Luck
24:33Venus HumDo You Want to Fight meThe Colors In the Wheel
27:46LambThe Night has a Thousand EyesAll in Your Hands
33:25Sophie RimhedinStrangeHi-Fi
38:16His Name Is AliveMarriedHome is in the Head
40:57Björk In the MusicalsSelmasongs
45:28EstheroMelancholy MelodyWikkid Lil' Grrrls
50:01Múm & SjonShe Begins Her EducationMotorlab #2
53:40CocorosieNoah's ArkNoah's Ark
57:36Regina SpektorEditBegin to Hope
62:09Sigur Rós Njosnavelin()
69:02Lali PunaTogether in Electric DreamsI Thought I Was Over That
73:17Lady and BirdBlue SkiesLady and Bird

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Zimbabwe - not getting any better

Just received this open letter from a family friend in Zimbabwe. Thought I'd share. I was there a few years ago, just before hyper inflation and the troubles really kicked off again, and the family I stayed with have left the country, and their lovely home flattened. They were trying to make a difference with equitable employment policies on their farm, and really the anti-thesis of the racism often associated with white Zimbabweans.

****

I reckon that these are the last days of TKM and ZPF. The darkest hour is always before dawn. We are all terrified at what they are going to destroy next........I mean they are actually ploughing down brick and mortar houses and one white family with twin boys of 10 had no chance of salvaging anything when 100 riot police came in with AK47's and bulldozers and demolished their beautiful house - 5 bedrooms and pine ceilings - because it was "too close to the airport", so we are feeling extremely insecure right now. You know - I am aware that this does not help you sleep at night, but if you do not know - how can you help?

You can't just be in denial and pretend it's not going on. To be frank with you, its genocide in the making and if you do not believe me, read the Genocide Report by Amnesty International which says we are IN level seven (level 8 is after it's happened and everyone is in denial). If you don't want me to tell you these things then it means you have not dealt with your own fear, but it does not help me to think you are turning your back on our situation.

We need you to get the news OUT that we are all in a fearfully dangerous situation here. Too many people turn their backs and say - oh well, that's what happens in Africa. This government has GONE MAD and you need to publicize our plight or how can we be rescued? You can't just say "oh you attract your own reality". The petrol queues are a reality, the pall of smoke all around our city is a reality, the thousands of homeless people sleeping outside in 0 Celsius with no food water, shelter and bedding are a reality. Today a family approached me, brother of the gardener's wife with two small children. Their home was trashed and they will have to sleep outside. We already support 8 people and a child on this property and electricity is going up next month by 250% as is water. How can I take another family of 4 and yet how can I turn them away to sleep out in the open?

I know we chose to stay here and so we deserve what's coming to us. For now, we ourselves have food, shelter, a little fuel and a bit of money for the next meal - but what is going to happen next? Will they start on our houses? All property is going to belong to the State now. I want to send out my Title Deeds to one of you because if they get a hold of those I can't fight for my rights. We no longer have SW radio which told us everything that was happening because the government jammed it out of existence - we don't have any reporters, and no one is allowed to photograph. If we had reporters here they would have an absolute field day. Even the pro government Herald has written that people are shocked, stunned, bewildered and blown mindless by the wanton destruction of everyone's homes which are supposed to be 'illegal' but which a huge percentage of them actually do have licenses for. Please - have some compassion and HELP by sending out the articles and personal reports so that something can be done.

****

"I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do." - Edward Everett Hale

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Converting CCIT μ-law to MP3 using SOX and Lame

This is a problem that has been bugging me for some time, and today I found my solution. Huzzah!

For my work I do a bunch of stuff with the phone network, and the standard that it uses for audio is CCIT μ-law, as described here. Basically this uses an 8khz bit rate, mono PCM (.wav) file. Not quite CD quality, but if you've ever spoken to anyone on the phone, you know that.

Now .wav files aren't really very useful for streaming over the internet, especially as flash doesn't have a great time handling them, especially this weird old-world format optimised for hardware routing. Seems Flash really wants mp3. Which is fair enough, I'm not gonna send a change request to Adobe - it may be that they'll put support in for Pacifica anyway

So, while spending a Sunday afternoon trying to get a demo ready for BlogTalk 2008 (it's last minute, it starts tomorrow!) this is an itch I very much needed to scratch, and preferably using open source tools, and definitely from a command line (which in turn, gets called from ASP.Net using System.Diagnostics.Process.Start)

The tools you'll need are SOX and LAME - you'll need an executable version of LAME, rather than a dll. If you're trying this on an operating system other than Windows this technique might not work in exactly the same way, but the tools are cross platform, so you should find a way.

But both sox.exe and lame.exe in the same folder. Then run this command line (thanks to this old O'Reilly post for pointing the way)

sox -t wav yourinputfile.wav -t wav -s -w -c 1 -r 8000 - rate | lame -b 80 - youroutputfile.mp3

Obviously you'll be changing filenames as you see fit, but the output should be just fine.

Apparently the "rate" switch is deprecated in the version of sox I've got hold of, but frankly, I don't care. This has given me the result I wanted, which is a low quality mp3 file from a CCIT μ-law message that's been left in a kinda voicemail system using the "record" function in CallFlow

Hope this is useful to someone out there! If you feel really brave sox can possibly do this in realtime (ie audio in, audio out, without hitting the file system!) If someone knows how this is done, I'd love them to share.

Now all I need to do is dump the MP3's in an RSS feed. But that should be the easy bit.

Catastrophe Comes to Those who Wait

I read this headline in the New Scientist today. (Sorry, the full article is behind a paywall). It was referring to fossil fuels, and the fact that the strategy of waiting to have better technology before trying to reduce CO2 output is probably gonna doom the planet.

And there's me just flying from Bristol to Cork, when I could've taken a ferry (and a lot longer!). That's my carbon allowance for the year eaten up. Again. Ho Hum.

On a more individual note, there's lots of things we procrastinate about, that could lead to more personal catastrophe, due to the common beliefs that we are superhuman, invincible and that "it won't happen to me"

Do you overeat, or otherwise neglect your nutrition? You might get diabetes or heart disease.

Do you smoke? Could die of lung cancer. Drinking too much booze? Liver disease waits.

Are you neglecting the loves of your life because of work (or worse, football)? They might leave you, or simply not include you in their lives when you need them.

Do you live off your credit card? You could end up sharing financial meltdown along with many others.

The ostrich sticks his head in the sand, and I assure you, that's a strategy that leads to catastrophic asphyxiation for the poor, stupid bird.

Do you write code with low (or pointless) test coverage? It will break - though in this case someone else may have to fix it.

There's so many potential catastrophes in store for us that it's hard to know which ones to ignore. Life's a gamble.

I've made a lot of mistakes in my time, and they nearly all tend to come from procrastination about things that really should be done sooner. I'm reminded of the Sufjan Stevens song, Chicago, that I included in this mix; here's a snippet of the lyrics

you came to take us
  all things go, all things go
to recreate us
  all things grow, all things grow
we had our mindset
  (I made a lot of mistakes)
all things know, all things know
  (I made a lot of mistakes)
you had to find it
  (I made a lot of mistakes) 
all things go, all things go
  (I made a lot of mistakes)

So watch it people. Don't procrastinate. Don't hide the fact that you're doing so, as while the secrets we keep from each other can be part of what makes life interesting, and too much honesty can be a bad thing, if you're hiding bad news from yourself, it will probably catch up with you sooner or later.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

On Ownership and the 20th Century Mass Media Blip

Yannis writes that he likes to "own" CDs, DVDs, books, photographs etc and have a physical object that he can hold.

He and I are different that way, and there are a number of reasons for that.

I'm not a communist, but i do think encouraging folk to "own" stuff is the same as encouraging them to consume more of our limited resources, rather than less. Give stuff away, be light and free, I say. The things you own can end up weighing you down (I have landed friends with expensive stately homes they can barely afford to maintain these days)

And what Yannis doesn't mention is that when he buys a CD, DVD or book created by others, he actually "owns" a physical object, and not the content itself - he has only purchased the right to enjoy that content, and, indeed, if his CD becomes scratched beyond playing, then his right to enjoy that music is now dubious; I don't see the record label just replacing his CD.

Course, he has fair use rights to back it up in many countries, provided there is no ugly copy protection in the way, or to play those REM songs to others on his guitar if he wishes, Michael Stipe has no redress for that.

With books, it's even worse! Photocopying a whole book, to back it up, is just insanity. I'm looking forward to the second or third generation Kindle - I suspect once I've got one I'll never buy a book or magazine again, and yah-boo-sucks to all the nay-sayers who think that carrying around chunky bits of forest to read is better. They'll come round, mark my words.

So aligning my fair use of copyrighted content with physical media is not really very helpful. (Doesn't work either - just look at how long the CSS encryption that's supposed to prevent me copying DVDs has been cracked). As I pointed out in my last post, I don't use CDs anymore, really I would prefer to have some system catalogue my usage of music and my rights to play it.

Point number 2 is the environmental impact of all of us having our own physical media. OK, I do understand that data centres, networks, all of that packet based distribution infrastructure requires power, and green computing is something others understand better than me and write about at length. And I really do not have the knowledge to understand whether the carbon impact of printing a DVD, packaging it, shipping it is greater than streaming the content, be that over a P2P distribution mesh network, or direct from server to client. But I imagine that, on balance, less physical goods being shipped results in cleaner skies, and that will increasingly affect us in taxation and limited resource terms.

(As an aside, sometimes calculating carbon debt isn't always clear - we in the UK apparently like our prawns to come with their shells off, and we prefer it when humans, not machines, take off the shells. I heard on Radio 4, so it must be true, that its cheaper in monetary and carbon terms to ship prawns trawled off the coast of Britain out to Thailand, via Rotterdam, in massive freezers/containers, have some poor underpaid Thai people shell them for us by hand in no doubt hideous working conditions, ship them back, repackage and sell, than to take the same trawled prawns to a factory in, say, Leeds, have a carbon-consuming machine shell them badly. and then attempt to sell them to disgruntled customers. Even when they've done thousands of miles across the globe and back in freezers, the carbon debt is allegedly less and the supermarket is STILL allowed to label them as British produce... Course, the underlying problem here is that we should be less lazy and shell our own shrimps, and chop our own vegetables - but this is a different rant)

Point 3 is really the one that I wanted to get to in this post, and that is about the changing nature of media production and distribution, which Yannis alludes to in his post with reference to the fact that he now has a digital camera and posts photos to flickr for the world to see.

See, 100 years ago he wouldn't of had a camera at all. If he wanted a family portrait done he would have had to get stuck into a supply chain over which he had very little control (other than injecting cash), by hiring a professional, who would then come and take his family photograph, using a flash bulb that only worked once, with a nice little explosion, and then "developed" using expensive and hard to get chemicals. This was only available to the upper middle classes, and they would only be able to have one copy of the image, with no backup possibility at all, apart from sketches!

100 years before that he'd hire a portrait artist. Only the upper classes could afford this! Paint, ink and pencils and other implements for media production just weren't readily available to all and sundry, nor the education to use them correctly. So any media that most folk enjoyed was locally produced and in the collective memory, not even written on paper. The most read book in the UK was the Bible, due to the copy in the church and the trained-to-read-latin preacher.

In all of time there will only ever be one century in which there is a one-to-many mass media society.

See, mass media ultimately is a supply chain and network business, and so many parts of it now are disrupted, democratised and available to you and I. We can now take photos, with commodity equipment (how many phones have cameras?) upload and distribute at will. OK, monetizing this content is tricky, but that only affects those who think they deserve cash for their efforts - which I doubt most flickr uses intend.

Before we could replicate and transport books easily we told stories to each other, and we remembered them. Before we could record music and distribute it we created it together, with whatever we could find to make a noise, banging sticks, blowing in reeds, scratching horsehair over pig gut, or just vibrating our diaphragms. Even for me, before I ever bought a DVD or video I was involved in amateur dramatics (sadly no more, but my daughter can be a drama queen...) and performed others works, and improvisations of my own. Content ownership used to be, across broad swathes of society, only in the collective memory and if you forgot a song or a story, it was gone forever.

Along came the 20th century.

As a result of the industrial revolution the printing press, and paper production got cheaper. Now content could be created centrally and distributed, using railways and those new fangled "roads" to a larger audience - we got the concept of popular fiction, and the concept of "I own this" crept in to the common consciousness, which of course flies in the face of copyright law, but is, according to Yannis, still the common perception.

We got radio. Now distribution no longer involved physical media, and we had one-to-many broadcast - we got popular music. To be fair, we had popular music for many millennia, all those traditional folk songs that exist in the collective memory, but these did not really cross geographic or cultural borders. With the advent of radio what was deemed popular across the globe really started homogenising. Sad in some ways, but this temporary cultural flattening seems to lead now, in the twenty first century to greater diversity as we have influences from everywhen and everywhere to inspire creativity.

We got cinema and television. Now locally produced drama and entertainment really flew out the window because the state-owned-broadcast networks, with their two or three channels, knew best, and could choose our entertainment and deliver it to us. And I'm not happy that still folk often just prefer whatever is broadcast to them, but I see that pattern changing, first with multiple channels of unwanted content through broadcast TV, then with internet distribution prototypes like YouTube.

We got persistent storage of music. and we felt we owned music. If you'd asked anyone 100 years previously what music they "owned" they'd give you a blank stare, I'm sure the concept would just be alien to them. Musicians back then made money because of the creation of works, normally by performing, not with the process of song writing itself. Sound familiar to any musicians out there today?

Yes, things are turning full circle. We're getting back to the world of distributed production, and local interest groups. Only this time around local interest means "we share the same interest" rather than "we share the same locality". We've mixed up all our cultural references, we've made the tools of production available to a swathe of the people who could receive mass media, and isn't it all so exciting? So much content produced has now become, to quote an increasingly popular phrase "social objects".

I like this emerging world where I have the choice, if I want entertainment, to completely disregard the top 5 record labels and mass broadcast technologies, and find music through a network of like minded friends and semantic ontologies that are really beginning to understand, through ratings and recommendations, wisdom of crowds etc, what is is that I'm interested in.

I really like the fact that I can easily watch movies made in Korea! Even 20 years ago this was not much of an option except to the cognoscenti, stuck up media types that they often were (apologies to those who think they're still there)

I really like the fact that I can produce mixes of other folks music and put them on this blog (and wish it were legal, but technology has always been ahead of society and regulation on matters like this). I love the fact that I can write this blog, and post it, and that there's a possibility that folk in my local/social interest group, across the world, can read and refer it on. I'm not getting paid for it, but that's not why I'm doing it! I'm creating content and enjoying doing so, and if other folk like it too, then great. If we can all learn from each other and empathise more, even better.

I like the fact that even design and fabrication of objects such as furniture and jewellery is become available to you and I

So do I want to own media? Do I care where the film, or the music, or the prose or the photo physically is?

No. I don't care and I don't want to know. I want systems that make it easy for me to produce media for others consumption and make it easy to find things that I'll like and want to share. And no, neither production nor distribution is perfectly commodotised yet, but things are changing so fast. I recall that 10 years ago the world had barely heard of mp3s, and 10 years before that home taping was killing music.

I assert that the 20th Century was just a blip in the world of entertainment. It will one day be remembered as the only century in which we had Mass Media, and that our choice to be content producers to our circle of friends was largely taken away. I'm so glad that increasingly content production and distribution are highly participatory acts, and the quality of the content we choose to enjoy will be in our hands once again.

I predict the demise of Hollywood as the source of all our movies (in the western world). I predict and hope for open source music. I predict collaboratively written stories once again becoming the norm. I know that you can sing and enjoy it, no matter what you say, and that the only true criteria for writing great music is knowing what we like.

Believe me or not. After all, nothing is true, right?

Saturday, 23 February 2008

I want to pay for music

The music industry is dead. Long live the music business.

Just reading about the plans the UK government and the music industry are hatching around kicking people off the interweb if they persistently download music.

What a crap idea.

I've downloaded (ahem) one or two albums in my time. I've also bought a stack load of CDs and, back in the day, quite a bunch of records. And I don't mind paying for music I like. And as you've hopefully observed, I like to repackage and make some of it available to you through this blog.

Must admit, I think CDs are a bit of a legacy technology, you aren't gonna catch me buying too many more of those. I remember seeing the pitch for CDs on Tomorrows World in the eighties. I never quite believed you could eat off them, with a knife and fork, then wipe them clean, and they'd never scratch, and last forever. Don't try this at home, kids! I now burn CDs just for the car, and expert them to last four or five plays before they are scratched...

Trouble is there's just so much damn music out there. And I like to dip my toes in the water and try it before I buy it. There's definitely a bunch of music I have in my collection that I've never listened to, or perhaps like just one track off an album. I'm sure I'm not really unusual in that.

I don't think I'm a particularly rare case with my music habits in general. I used to spend lunchtimes browsing in record shops and listening to the odd few things, and sometimes I'd spend half a weeks wages on music that just wasn't worth it. Now I browse other peoples record collections over the web,or sometimes, just copy their hard drives (stop that, p2p traffic police, if you can! mwha ha ha) This is made a bunch easier by the fact the DRM experiment has failed. Add a bit of Pandora, or LastFM and you can see the world has changed

The underlying problem the UK government is trying to address is that, just as in the telco world, distribution has gone over the top. No longer need I rely on supply chains that ship physical media (or put SS7 equipment in the network), and the big business that is required to enable that. Now I can just go online, and download music faster than I can feasibly play it. And what a joy it is. The amount of music I discover through this is just fantastic. The music industry is disrupted, and, I reckon, is beyond saving as it stands. Sorry guys! Game Over!

As an aside, my favourite example of disrupted industries is the canals in the UK. While they first started appearing in Roman times, during the industrial revolution there was a pressing need to ship goods and materials around the country, and so massive capital investments were made digging ditches around hills, through cities and even over rivers and filling them with water. An Act of Parliament was required for each canal! The canal industry went through the periods of innovation, competition, and consolidation that we see in much accelerated form with broadband ISPs these days. Still, it didn't take long really till railways and roads took over, and only a few of the canal companies managed to reinvent themselves within that new paradigm. Now we pretty much just use the canals for leisure porpoises.

As the cost of music production is tending towards zero, and the cost of distribution too, I am not really very inclined to pay for those two features of that industry. But I do believe that artists should be rewarded for their creativity, and, moreover, I believe that I should be encouraged, nay, incentivised to share my extensive music collection so that others will pay too. It's a bit daft that it's supposed to be all locked away, and clearly the yoof today don't understand that old way of things.

What we need is a new model of distribution, where having the bits stored on physical media - be that on a hard drive, in the cloud, on a CD that can be copied, or whatever is not what I pay for. What I want to pay for is PLAYING music, not STORING it.

The reason the DRM experiment has failed so miserably is because it got in my way. It didn't make it easier for me to discover or share new music, rather the opposite, it made it harder. There's a reason I have never bought anything from the I-Tunes Music store (a reason other than the fact I consider I-Tunes pretty sucky bloat-ware).

I'm dead sad that weed share died as it was a most interesting experiment, with the lofty goals of democratising distribution, and enabling new players to compete in that end of the market. Sadly it was build around Windows Media DRM - more for tracking than protection purposes, and is now dead. Killed, effectively, by Microsoft (though there are rumours that maybe the Weed founders are getting paid by licensing patents to the Zune; not much good for those whose DRMd tracks won't play now)

I, for one, would happily pay a notional "broadband music tax", and allow a small utility to track every single piece of music that I play, on or offline, so that the artist, and their support network can be rewarded appropriately. I appreciate that the infrastructure to support this is kinda tricky, but it's the sort of thing the MCPS-PRS should be pushing for. In my opinion. Not watching what I download and killing my connection if I'm naughty. That's just arse about tit, quite frankly.

What do you think? Are you happy paying for the right to store music? Do you ever regret paying for that? Do you ever share music with your friends and barely feel guilty about it at all? Would you pay a "music license" and allow your usage to be tracked?

If you make music (and let's assume you're not a top ten artist) are you comfortable with the current options available to you for distribution? Or Do you prefer your music to just spread so that you get more folk through the door at gigs?

Monday, 11 February 2008

Spinal Tap style CPU in my machine

Spinal tap had a very special amplifier, it went beyond 10 to 11!

 

Turns out my HP laptop has CPUs that go beyond 100% usage...

100.50%

No overclocking required. I'm sure Vista makes the most of that extra 0.5% oomph...

Saturday, 9 February 2008

rain.mp3

Rain. We here in Britain are experts on rain. We have all sorts. For lots of the year, it is grey, wet, and the chances of rain are that it could start... just... about... now...


But you know, there's rain and there's rain and there's rain. And we probably have more words for rain, then the Inuit have for snow. Mind you, it is a myth that they have dozens, hundreds, or thousands, there's about 4. No link, check for yourself!


Apparently there are pretty much three types of rain, no matter what word you choose, be that shower, storm, mist, cats and dogs &c. Scientifically speaking apparently all there really is is orographic, frontal and convective rain.


Whatever the scientists say, I think we have more. We have drizzly rain, which is great on a hot day, it cools you down - but frankly crap when you have it for months at a time. We have heavy rain in, which you either avoid, or give in to it - once you're wet, you may as well enjoy it, I don't know about you, butI like the feeling of being completely and utterly soaked sometimes, especially when I know there's warm towels, clean dry clothes, a raging fire, and hot food waiting for me.

I don't like it when a soaking wet dog jumps on the sofa. That's a downer.

Maybe it's been a really hot humid, tropical day, and you're looking forward to 5 o'clock and the predictable storm to cool the air, and allow you to breathe for a few seconds without feeling like you're drinking hot water. Not in England; I lived in Durban, South Africa for a while, and that summer I saw amazing lightning storms nearly every day, as the sun went down and the air cooled. But it got darn wet!. After a while I knew when it was coming and I got the hell out of the way in time.

Storms at sea, that's another thing again, with churning waves, tempestuous winds, and the risk of capsizing. I recall (or maybe it's my imaginings) seeing The Tempest at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, and the weather being awful, but the actors bravely struggling on. Added to the play somehow, though I could barely hear a thing!

The theme of this mix - not Shakespeare, not outdoor theatre, nor sunshine; but rain & storms. Once again I seem to have covered a number of decades and a number of continents and have included music never put side by side before, including a version of Purple Rain quite unlike the original

Download or stream from here (92Mb)

Start

Artist

Track

Source

00:00The PixiesStormy WeatherBossanova
03:22SparklehorseRainmakerVivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot
07:00Nina SimoneI Think It's Going to Rain TodayNina Simone and Piano
10:23Nina NastasiaStormy WeatherDogs
13:08Jim O'RoukeGhost Ship in a StormEureka
16:15The Flaming LipsFive Stop Mother Superior RainIn a Priest Driven Ambulance
22:03Safety ScissorsStormy WeatherParts Water
27:26Ryuichi SakamotoGeorge In RainLove is the Devil
28:46BasixPurple RainCosmosonica - Crazy Covers Vol 1
32:38Giant SandDirty From the RainChore of Enchantment
36:02Patrick WolfThis WeatherWind in the Wires
40:26Willard Grant Conspiracy + TelefunkJust a Little RainIn the Fishtank
44:44Norah JonesSeptember in the RainMarian McPartland's Piano Jazz
47:51Penta Leslee SwansonThere Was a Thunder There Was RainSorrow and Solitude
52:33Linda PerhacsChimacum RainParallelograms
55:39Craig ArmstrongWeather StormSpace Between us
61:32MùmWill the Summer Make Good For All of Our SinDusk Log

I notice I'm repeating myself already. We're only on mix 4 of the year, and I find Giant Sand's Chore of Enchantment album appearing again. Howe Gelb is a top artist, so I forgive myself!

Found as well that the copy I have of that Mùm ep is worth about £30 now. How nice for me. Hope you enjoy the tunes. Let me know!

Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens
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