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...


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

Saturday, 9 February 2008


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)





00:00The PixiesStormy WeatherBossanova
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!

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Embedding Windows Media Player in Firefox and Internet Explorer

So this actually wasn't very hard! I was pleasantly surprised.

My remit was to have a list of audio files on a web page, which when clicked, played. I didn't want a video window, I wanted to use the Media Player mini-mode. This was for a proof of concept of a voicemail system using the wonderful, and groundbreaking, and probably revolutionary Web21C CallFlow service. Disclaimer - I have been involved in this project from the early days, so my opinion is most definitely biased.

I wanted to use this as an opportunity to play with the Windows Media player control, and accept the fact that I would get an inevitable backlash from Apple and *.nix users. My user base is pretty controlled - amounts to two or three people, and I reckon that none of them use anything other than corporate builds of Windows on a PC.

So here's the code.

First, put a player in the browser with this script in inline HTML

<SCRIPT type="text/javascript">

str = "";

if (-1 != navigator.userAgent.indexOf("Firefox"))
// create WMP for FF.
str = '<object id="mediaPlayer" type="application/x-ms-wmp" width="176" height="44">';
else {

// create WMP for IE
str = '<object id="mediaPlayer" classid="CLSID:6BF52A52-394A-11d3-B153-00C04F79FAA6" width="176" height="44">';

str += '<param name="uiMode" value="mini">';
str += '<param name="autoStart" value="true">';
str += '</object>';

    // emit the object tag 


Using the Microsoft Ajax controls, (an UpdatePanel and a Timer) the server outputs some raw HTML straight into a asp:label control. Although the files to be played are WAV files they are very low resolution. CCIT μ-Law 8bit, telephone quality - lower resolution than most mp3s

foreach (string s inDirectory.GetFiles(@"dir"))




fi = newFileInfo(s);

lblMessages.Text = lblMessages.Text + "<BR><A href=\"#\" onClick=\"playFile('"+ fi.Name + "')\">"+"Message from "+ fi.Name.Split('.')[0] +" at "+ fi.CreationTime.ToString()+ "</a>";



And finally, the Javascript to play the file. Note the name of the page is VoiceRecording.aspx, and I need to strip bits out based on the current path of the page. (Yes, I need to improve my RegExs and do this better, but what the hell)

function playFile(s)
loc = document.location.toString();
document.mediaPlayer.URL = loc.substr(0,loc.indexOf("VoiceRecording",0)) + "VoiceMail/" s;

And there we go. Because I set the autoStart parameter to the object to true, as soon as the URL of the audio is set, it starts to play.

I'd give you a link to the page, but it's all hidden behind OpenId, and access is protected; it does stuff with the phone system that costs real money. Y'all will have to make do with a screenshot.

I've airbrushed out photos for the sake of privacy.


Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens
Be Silent