Sunday, December 28, 2008

audio: search for master tape holy grail continues

In thoughts on digitizing vinyl I talked about the futility of digitizing my vinyl records when what I really want is the best digital file possible.

There's a fascinating thread on the topic of better-than-CD digitized formats in the SMR higher-res forum. The engineer from Blue Coast Records wants to offer high-quality downloads, but like Pete Towsend in the EQ interview, concedes “we did a listening test and found that analog was the best medium and chose to record the Blue Coast Collection on 2", with a backup to DSD.” But a sounds-great-but-not-perfect digital file is much less compelling than the master tape. Figuring out that final format is I think the only hope for quality recorded music — why else bother going for better-than-CD sound when 95% of all music sales are crappy MP3s?

It's tragicomical that the biggest impetus for quality digital files is not artists and record companies trying to create sonic masterpieces, but people making bootlegs of live concerts. A How to make a DSD Disc guide seems focused on "Snow Patrol 2007-07-18 Phoenix AZ"

It's all somewhat irrelevant to me right now, the financiapocalypse means it's a stretch to replace the blown fuse on a VTL power amp, let alone buy a Squeezebox Transporter to play such digital files on my stereo, or some kind of HDMI gizmo so I can play the SACD release of Gaucho on my PS3 and hear it through my stereo.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

music: early-to-mid Elvis: confidence is all

It's easy to overlook Elvis Costello and the Attractions' Get Happy!, coming between the breakthrough of Oliver's Army and the pop near-perfection of Trust. This twenty-song side venture into R&B, soul, ska and country (and plenty of new wave) is exploratory but so assured. It has a lot of killer couplets, such as this from Secondary Modern:
This must be the place
Second place in the human race
Elvis even gets clever before the song: the title: "5ive Gears in Reverse" has more allusion than most other songwriters can fit in the actual lyrics! In later reviews EC dismissed his wordplay as facile, but he's wrong about himself (as usual): why not be generous and provide another dimension for listeners?

Nick Lowe's production is probably the best Elvis ever got, it's spacious with great bass. Elvis Costello's more recent group records (Brutal Youth, All this Useless Beauty, When I was Cruel, The Delivery Man) suck sound-wise.

With the Imposters in concert and on record EC is trying to get back to the brash intensity of the early Attractions. But what made them so special was not the rock 'n' roll, it was the cocky exploration of new areas.

Listening to Get Happy! made me turn to Imperial Bedroom, the almost masterpiece. What keeps it off "Best 50 albums of all time " lists isn't its ambition but the anxiety (and the average engineering despite Beatle's engineer Geoff_Emerick producing). There's a sense of constriction about the record, so you admire it more than love it. The cathartic release into sweet sadness in the final song Town Cryer is heartfelt but inadequate:
I'm the town crier
And everybody knows
I'm a little down
With a lifetime to go
Maybe you don't believe my heart is in the right place
Why don't you take a good look at my face
Other boys use the splendour of their trembling lip
They're so teddy bear tender and tragically hip

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

software: update incompetence, disk space

Our two Windows PCs have about 7 different update programs running: Adobe Acrobat updater, Apple Updater, Flash updater, GoogleUpdate.exe and GoogleUpdaterService.exe, Java update (jusched.exe?), LavaSoft Ad-Aware updater, Symantec LiveUpdate (AluSchedulerSvc.exe?), ThinkVantage updater, Windows update. And that's after I turned off several others in MSCONFIG and Services.

The update code built into Firefox (and the Thunderbird e-mail program, and other Mozilla-powered apps) is the gold standard for a single program updater. Occasionally when you run Firefox (or when you choose Help > Check for Updates), it checks if there's a newer version and if so downloads (in the background while you continue using the program) a single update file that only contains the differences from your current version. Meanwhile it's actively hostile to users when every program they run has its own update checker and update system. My little One Laptop Per Child XO has a single Software update control panel for all installed activities. I believe Linux distributions provide a single updater that knows every package you have installed and checks for new versions and can install all of them en masse.

The Norton 360 v2 upgrade was particulary brain-dead (no surprise). Norton 360 alerted me there was a free new version available. So I downloaded a 760kB stub updater. That downloaded a 76 MB installer, which it left in the hidden obscure C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Symantec Temporary Files directory, apparently forever unless you regularly search for any folder named "temp" anywhere on your hard drive. And then when I ran the installer, it asked if it could download updates to its upgrade installer!!? That shows a company with pathetic automation and no confidence in its processes. Symantec labors for months to create a new version and a setup program for it, and then they can't rebuild the setup program every time they update parts of the program? Mozilla builds a brand-new complete installer and a nightly upgrade for multiple platforms at least once a day for Firefox and their other products.

Then Java announced it had an upgrade available, even though I wasn't running any Java programs! Thanks for slowing my computer down when I'm not using your code. The upgrade itself went pretty smoothly. While it was going I scanned the release notes, and they casually mention
As of JDK 6u10, patch-in-place installation is the default, and the JRE installs itself in a directory called jre6. Previously, it would have installed itself in a directory called jre1.6.0_10.
I checked, and C:\Program Files\Java had five different Java runtimes, each 70 MB. Sun like Symantec thinks 70,000,000 characters of disk space is so tiny it's not worth asking you if it's OK to consume it forever.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

software: desktop apps are hopelessly primitive

Against my better judgment I installed the free update to Norton 360 2.0. At one point it showed a dialog

What is a subscription?

You have 140 days of subscription remaining.

You can sign in to your Norton Account at any time by visiting www.myNortonAccount.com

Let's count the ways that this fails:
  • I can't hover over the "What is" link to see where it goes
  • I can't right-click on the link to get a context menu to copy the link location
  • So there's no way to determine if clicking that link will open a new window or replace the current one, and no way to control what happens
  • I can't zoom the text
  • I can't View > Source the text
  • I can't save the HTML of the dialog as a record of my subscription status
  • I can't select and copy the text to record my subscription status
I'd get all this for free if the application was a Web application, or Powered by Mozilla.

I cringe every time I run software that doesn't run in the browser.

Now's a good time to remind people you don't need MS Office. Write your next letter or presentation or spreadsheet on the web, in your browser, for free, using Google Docs or one of its competitors.

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