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Listening to music in three parts

Part 1 Listening to digital music

I have this theory. In fact I have lots of theories. But for the rest of this paragraph I will restrain myself to blessing you with just one. My theory is that we are all moving to digital music before we are ready for it.

I mean listening to it on an iphone/ipad thing, sure fine. We’re all doing that ok. But in the house? or in the car? How do you listen to it there?

I quite often hear people talk about how they put their CDs in the loft, or never buy real CDs any more. Yeah, why bother with that crazy shit?! And the news which reminded me of this today was that Amazon will allow you to download (and keep in the Cloud) any physical album you buy.

Now, when I do buy music (which is less now, as the rules of being a grown state you buy less music), when I do buy music, I do still tend to buy a CD. Even though the first thing I will do is rip it.

Why? Because, for some odd, unexplainable, stupid, economic-defying reason it is still cheaper, to pay for something to be designed, made, put together, boxed up, shipped to a warehouse, stored, picked form the warehouse, shipped to a Store, unboxed and put on a shelf, have people decide on how it will look in that store, and have people on hand to offer advice, someone to take payment, pay expensive rent on said store, and factor in shrinkage, THAN PUTTING A BLOODY 5MB FILE ONLINE TO DOWNLOAD.

This is crazy.

I said CDs are often cheaper than MP3s, as a quick test by looking on Amazon for Madonna (YOU SEE I AM DOWN WITH THE KIDS). Of the nine albums shown: five are cheaper on CD, three are only available on CD and one, just ONE, is cheaper by downloading MP3s. iTunes seems little better.

Screen Shot 2013 01 14 at 21 38 06

My buying process goes something like this: like a song on Spotify. Decide to buy it (especially as I don’t subscribe and can often only listen 5 times). Decide that I like more than 4 or so songs from the album, at which point, at 99p per song it is only a little more to buy the whole album. Check the album on Amazon both to download and buy, often the physical album is cheaper and that’s what I’ll buy.

I will then have it on my computer and iPhone (at a bit rate of my choosing – I am a geek) plus have a backup physical copy – which comes in a nice presentation box with photos – that I can also use in the Hi Fi, lend to a friend and play in a car. Those extras there are pretty handy, and worth getting the CD even if it is a little more than the download only version. Plus, PLUS they can’t do a Amazon-Kindle-look-at-us-while-we-delete-an-ebook-from-your-kindle-which-you-previously-purchased. Not with my physical copy they can’t.

But, even with these physical things sitting very very close to my as I type this, I still play mostly via my laptop. The thing is, they do skip, and worse, I have to stand up and walk a whole metre and find a cd, and put it in the player, and then after a while it will get to the song i don’t care for much and have to get up again and press skip. I know! And then 15 mins in to the album my attention span will be all used up and I’ll want to instantly change to a completely different song which probably isn’t on any CD I own, let alone the one I’m playing. Is there no end to the grind?

That’s not to say CDs don’t have advantages. For one they are better quality (no compression, dedicated hardware) when they are not skipping, and also they continue to play even when my laptop does the pretty rainbow circle for a mouse pointer. Which happens every two minutes and lasts 110 seconds each time for me. Sometimes I avoid switching windows or opening a new tab because I like the song I’m listening to and don’t want it to cut out.

But lets get back to the question, if you, the general public  (yes, that was quite patronising) are abandoning the CD for digital music, then what are you doing.

There seems to be three options: use earphones, use a cable in to your existing Hi Fi, use a Hifi or specialist device with an iPhone dock.

Now, if you fancy ‘pumping some tunes’ (once again I demonstrate just how with it I am) in to your living room then headphones are no good. But do we really all rely on little cables connecting our laptop headphone socket with our HiFi external input socket? Or has everyone dumped their HiFi and just use their iPhone (and, yes for you in the corner, also Android devices, bless)  in some specialist dock? (the latter of course will give much better quality, a digital signal basically going to the Hifi’s DAC – digital analog converter darling – and then on to the Hifi’s amp)

Or do we all now party in our living rooms by the sound of an internal laptop speaker? Good news for the neighbours. Less so for crazy parties.

My point, which so far I have failed to make in any articulate way, is that we all seem to be running around going ‘remember those CDs? how quaint! we’re all digital now, yeah, we’ve given all our CDs to Oxfam, yar, darling pass the hummus’, at the same time, we’re not really ready to do so. Cars either just have a CD player, or need to come with a 5 year old child attached to them to explain how you transfer your music from your ‘digital cloud’ on to a stick your car can play. And even if you can do that with your computer, how do you do it with your iPad where files are so twentieth century, god who needs them any more, and who wants a nasty looking usb port to ruin the smooth lines that Steve himself created? How do you get files from a device with no files and no usb port to your car?

And Spotify, how can it take over / destroy / save the music industry if there’s no easy way to get the music to sound ok. I’ve often amazed when people say they just use Spotify now. How do you play it? Oh we just play it out of the laptop speakers. Really? Is this progress? It feels like the McDonalds of progress, instant choice but not a great step for quality.

Me? My HiFi is on the other side of the room to my laptop and I use Apple’s Airport to stream music wirelessly. It’s not an ideal solution, expensive to buy an airport express just for this, requires a special third party app to stream Spotify and anything else other than iTunes, but does work.

The whole point of laptops is that they are portable, so I’m surprised there aren’t more common technologies to cheaply take the sound your laptop is making and streaming it with no wires to your HiFi. I would have though that would be a common requirement and yet it seems to be only me looking for it.

Part 2 Why isn’t the music industry doing better with Spotify

We’re told on a regular basis that the music industry is doomed. Mainly due to evil pirates. And the Internet. And Spotify.

We’re also told that Spotify gives the artist a very poor deal, and a number of charts have done the rounds online over the years comparing the money an artist will typically receive from CDs, online, singles, radio play and Spotify, with the sat being a tiny fraction of the rest.

Finally, we know that Spotify itself isn’t rolling in huge profits.

Something seems to be wrong. Because to me, it seems like people are spending money like they never used to, meanwhile, costs are being cut out. With more money in the industry, and fewer people wanting a cut, this should mean good times. So why doesn’t it?

First my logic. I don’t have any numbers. But my instinct is that most people (MOST) don’t buy a new CD each month. What would be the average for an adult, a couple of year? We’ll make it 4 to be generous. Let’s say £10 a CD, that’s £40 per adult a year.

Now it so happens that a Spotify Premium account a month costs about the same as a CD, £10. So for a year that’s £120. So for a typical person, with a Spotify account, they’ve gone from putting £40 a year in to the music industry right up to £120 a year, tripling what they used to pay.

Now of course, many people with a Spotify account will be music lovers who, pre-spotify, would buy more CDs than my plucked out the air 4, but I know many people with Spotify Premium who I wouldn’t put in to that grouping.

And higher up in this ramblings I pointed out just how many extra costs the traditional CD has compared with a digital download. That £40 included a cut for the security guard in HMV, and the person who does the Health and Safety training for stores in the south west. And don’t forget the guys in the warehouse, or the one who sources the packaging, or the girl who designed the art layout inside the sleeve.

But that £120? Well yes Spotify get a cut, but the rest goes to the record label itself (i.e. the music industry), and hopefully a portion of that will go on to the actual artist. So more money is coming in, and more of it is going to the core of the industry.

There are partial answers, but they don’t explain it all. The music industry complains because that’s what it always does (and I get a feeling that they still live in an excess of a previous era).

Spotify is playing a long-term game, expanding both the number of countries and users, and will hopefully become sustainable. And the numbers we have for artists are patchy and mostly from those who have shared (confidential) numbers, and mostly indie outfits. Of course the truth is it is a long tail. And indies are the tail. Lady Gaga is probably played more than all of them put together and can also negotiate a higher play fee, combined probably means she does quite well out of it. The humble CD did equalise things a little: the price of a CD album did not differ too much between major acts and indie bands, so if you bought lady gaga and an indie band you would probably pay roughly the same amount. I’ve also a hunch that Gaga fans will probably play the same song many times, where as someone who prefers small indie bands is more likely to have a wider range of acts they listen to, which with Spotify’s pay for plays means that they have a small audience listening to their music, plus that audience will listen to it less per person.

And of course the Spotify model is more long-term for the artist as well. With CDs you get a surge in spending, as people buy the CD, they then may listen to it for decades but you earn nothing more directly from this. However with Spotify they could go on earning for years, without doing any extra work. So while it may look to like CDs, downloads, etc are better earners, we will have to see how they compare over a longer time period.

As an aside what I don’t get however is why the adverts on Spotify often seem quite poor, as if they struggle to sell the advert slots. To me this is advertising gold, audio adverts are harder to ignore than magazine, online or even tv ads. Spotify users are likely to be young, tech savvy, probably not too badly off (they have broadband and a computer) and these sound like the sort of things which advertisers like. What’s more adverts can be be tailored based on listening tastes. They should be able to target much more accurately than for TV or radio, and hitting the right audience is always the key thing.

Get back to the point and wrap up this bit Chris. So my point is, Spotify, based on my non-fact-based guesswork, looks like it is getting people to spend more money on music than they would previously, while reducing the number of people who need a cut of that money. So why is the music industry in ruins, Spotify in loss, and artists complaining of a poor deal.

Part 3 Bloody Hell HMV

A couple of hours a go it was announced that HMV, the last major Music retailer in the UK, is going in to Administration. This was shocking in that it was and wasn’t shocking.

It wasn’t shocking because anyone who reads the news will have read a slow drip feed of bad news for HMV, and this christmas didn’t bring good results.

But it was shocking because it was both the last major music chain (they also did films and games but I wasn’t really interested in those) and the one I’ve visited most in my life. It was also the one I visited when growing up.

Someone tweeted earlier that they’re glad HMV sold Waterstones (the UK last major national book store) so not to bring them down with it. I don’t feel the same. I wish I did. I wish I could say I was the bookish type, always lost in a book when growing up, always reading new things. The truth is I didn’t read much, and I don’t now. And the only book shop I remember in Northampton, where I grew up, was WH Smiths (later on Waterstones, and The Works, did open up a store, and in those days WH Smiths wasn’t too bad, and not the mess of a store it is today). So, I feel bad – and somehow a lesser person – for saying it, but if it was Waterstones announcing closure today I wouldn’t feel the same sense of nostalgia and sentimentality as I do today. I imagine for many towns it will be a choice between WH Smith and the supermarkets which is depressing.

Luckily I have quite a few music shops near me, most sell CDs I’ve never heard of, and nearly all only exist for a few years before they close and new stores open up to replace them. Resident music makes an exception by both being open 8 years (aka ‘forever’ in terms of Brighton’s shops) and even sells some music i have heard of.

Finally, I never quite understand why companies go in to Administration in this way. When times are getting tough, why not sell those stores that generate the biggest loses, make the whole company smaller and then focus on rebuilding a much smaller company. It seems to me that Comet, Jessops and HMV all kept nearly all their stores open right up to Administration, and in HMV’s case, they often had large stores, right in the busiest (aka most expensive) part of the shopping centre. Why not move to smaller sized units, and, while not moving to the edge of town, look in to units which were a little less ‘premium’.

I’ve been surprised by a number of the recent closures. Comet may not have been great, but it’s where you often went for a fridge or electrical good. And while people may be splashing out less at the moment, white goods are not something that has really taken off in terms of online shopping. And Habitat, a store that over priced everything and yet always seemed busy. I always thought overpriced+busy=win. But clearly not.

And HMV, yes it had a LOT of competition from Amazon and the supermarkets, but it was the last high street music seller of note, especially with Virgin Megastores gone, if you wanted a CD, or film while in town that is where you went, so I find it surprising they couldn’t find a way to make that work, even if it meant reducing the stores.

 

The three parts of this are all about how we listen to music, or how we are buying it, which are both connected. We are listening to it online, even if I suspect we are not doing it correctly (according to me, who obviously makes the calls on these judgements), we are subscribing and streaming not download or buying, which to me should bring in more money to the industry, and mean it goes to those we actually play, and it looks like we are losing the last real way to buy a physical album on the high street.

The weird thing about technology progress is that no one plans it through, or has any control of the direction. Each little development and change leads to a knock on effect to our lifestyles and way of living, sometimes we know this will have bad knock on effects but there is little we can do. For roughly the last hundred years (maybe a little less) we purchased music from a store, on a circle shaped thing (mostly), and certainly for the last few decades the most popular concept was the ‘album’ of 10 or so songs released together, with a name and some artwork. Like most publishing industries, we are clinging on to as much of this infrastructure even though the online environment makes it pointless, but for how much longer?

 

Things that annoy me with itunes and iphone ipod app

Number 1. Metadata is crap. Not just bad. Not just ‘Jonny needs to try harder’ in parts. out and out crap. Even on popular albums. This is the most popular digital music system there is. by far. and they can’t get it right.

When I want to browse albums I want to see albums, not random one-off tracks that so happen to include the album they belonged to (which is often the case from iTunes). Itunes is designed to allow you to buy one track, not whole albums, so why is iTunes designed in such a way that it doesn’t cater for this. Album browse is useless because most of it is random one of tracks.

And like most people, I’m visual. I glance my albums on my bookcase my brain is scanning for the blue/green one for The Avalanches. So the lack of covers for fairly popular albums in annoying. But having the wrong cover  is worse. I’m presuming many are the US release album cover. But here’s the thing… Steve can stand on stage and show some really amazing things, so is it that hard to say this person is buying/ripping an album from a British band, with a UK Itunes account, with a UK credit card, with a UK Mac, through a UK ISP, located in the UK, is it that hard to serve up the cover used in the UK? Really?

I do not own covers that look like this - and it's the real Beatles album, not some 'cover' version

I do not own covers that look like this - and it's the real Beatles album, not some 'cover' version

Ripping/Buying an album and showing as multiple album entries when browsing by album (list or cover flow). This is annoying in iTunes. It’s REALLY annoying on  an iPod. Choose an album, press play, go for a run, discover half the tracks are missing because there’s a featured artist, or the album name is slightly different, or something else which frankly I couldn’t be bothered at the time to investigate but just wanted to, you know, listen to an album.

Two entries because one song on the album had a second guest vocalist

 

I can listen to The Best of Scott Walker and the Walker Brothers so long as I only want to listen to (a) Scott Walker (b) the Walker Brothers

How the hell has iTunes survived 10 years or so without a bloody ‘add to queue’ option? Winamp had it 15 years a go. When I was in Halls in 1999 we would use a little-known option in winamp so that one computer would stream music and the others would pick up the stream (geeks: may have been multicast), this meant we have 5 or so computers – connected to hi-fis – playing the same music. This made awesome parties, and everyone knew you could browse for MP3s on the main PC and ‘add to queue’ to add to the music without disrupting the flow.

I’m spent part of my life trying to understand the iTunes DJ playlist. I. Still. Don’t. Understand.

Genres. We’re all subjective. But people. It would just be more accurate to randomly assign genres to tracks than what iTunes currently has. Madness are Rock (Madness!) so are the Pet Shop Boys (madness!), about 80% of my music is ‘Alternative & Punk’, I have about 5 different types of electronic/dance categories, Best of Bowie (Disc 1) is Rock, Best of Bowie (Disc 2) is Pop (but to their credit they managed consistent use of brackets which is a novelty). All in all, this makes Genres completely useless for any practical use – you know, like to listening to music that is vaguely of the same style – except perhaps for classical. And don’t even get me started on classical music metadata. Do we need genres? Does Genius cater for the desire to listen to a certain style of music? How could genres be handled better? Hierarchical? Now that would generate some interesting debates amongst people (WHAT Industry Garage is under Dance, the end is nigh).

 

The iPod has its own quirks. For one, it insists in showing an artist name even if an album is a compilation. Uncovered by Ministry of Sound is one example of many:

No Yonderboi and Wallis Bird did not create the whole of Uncovered between them.

And which Thriller do we choose here?

Thriller by Jacko and Vincent - you decide

No points if you foolishly said the second, artist Michael Jackson. That only contains Beat It. Why? It took a lot of looking on iTunes. I tried changing the Genre to the same as the rest of the album (why was it different? they were all ripped from the same CD at the same time). In the end it turned out the rest of the album had ‘part of a compilation’ ticked, Beat it didn’t, so was treated separately. Is it a compilation? Clearly in the real world this is an album by one artist. But some of the bonus tracks are by others (Vincent Jones to name one), does that make it a compilation in iTunes eyes? I shouldn’t have to care.

[at this point I was listening to Brahms, but it’s just reached the end of the current track and stopped. Why? Was it because I had navigated away from the Classical genera and searched for Jackson to write the bit above? Does it only play when it’s on-screen. Tell me why. I thought it would just play.]

Which is another thing. I hate it – and this has happened a few times just writing this stuff – you’re browsing through one part of your collection, but when it moves to the next track it decides to jump back to the track that’s just started to play. To hell with what you were doing. Oh but pathetic end user! Clearly the one thing you want to do when a piece of music starts is leave whatever you are doing and see the entry for the track that is playing now. Of course you can already see that in the bit at the top. But why only see it once, when you can see it in the main list as well. Such joy!

Which is another (another) thing. iTunes is a beast that has grown over the years. It plays music, it manages your devices, it acts like a shop. Sometimes you just want the thing at the top to tell you what’s playing. But no instead, it sits there to tell you your stupidly huge download has not downloaded yet. So which of the meaningless icons means ‘show me what the hell is playing’. I’ll try that one… nope. that exited my careful changes to my iPhone sync configuration with yahoo and has taken me to the song in the main list. User error. Itunes needs tabs, or splitting up in to separate entities. Or something. Trying to juggle shop, config/sync and media centre just doesn’t seem to work.

Ping. Why?

Only five Karma Collection CDs here. And how did one actually end up showing Various Artists, like so many others should.

Sometimes. Just sometimes. You, I, she, he, we want to move music files around on our computer. Even without asking Steve first. Call it crazy. In fact it is crazy. You might as well just wipe iTunes now and be damned, you’re going to have to it anyway. You ask too much of it, expecting it to cope with a file moving. It’s entirely reasonable that it will just show duplicates with no easy way to managing it.

And if you add some music to your music folder, don’t think iTunes will do anything as pre-emptive as do anything with it. If you do demand of poor iTunes that it tries to include the new music it will probably re-import everything it already has in that music directory. It might make duplicate files (to keep things tidy) and will probably make duplicate entries. In any case just unless you have a small African nation working to resolve the issue just give up now.

If you buy a new PC don’t ever, ever, ever dream about copying across your playlists. Unless you have a PhD in writing your own XML files. (this isn’t a problem on Macs. But that’s because on OS X you buy a Mac, plug in your timemachine drive and everything Just Works, and somehow Everything includes iTunes – this must hurt the iTunes developers… all their good work).

Oh and don’t think that File > Library > Export Library will do any crazy shit like, you know, exporting your library.

There’s more, but I’m boring myself. This is a flagship product from the company that gets Good Design more than just about any other. Itunes is the Windows Millennium of Apple products. And it’s been like this for bloody years. I mean, will somebody please think of the children.

Broadband speed test

Utterly unscientific, but who ever you are, please spend a few minutes filling out this form about broadband speed.

You can choose which broadband speed test site you use, and if you have time perhaps repeat the test with a different site (with enough data we can spot if certain test sites report higher/lower speeds compared to others).

You can see the results of the test here: http://snipr.com/ud0h0

No specific reason for doing this, but interesting to see variations in speed based on location/provider/timing, etc.

Anyway, before you forget, pop along to this brief form and add your speed results. It’s anonymous, and you can be as vague as you want about your location.

Thanks

VuFind in 8 minutes using Amazon EC2

I’ve created a screencast showing how easy it can be to install VuFind. Here I go from nothing (no server, no OS) to full VuFind install in under 8 minutes.

It would probably take less than two minutes (under 10mins in total) to add MARC records to the installation, but I didn’t have any to hand at the time.

This demo cheats a bit by using a script that does the heavy work, the script was a mash up I created taking existing scripts and commands that come with VuFind with a few tweaks. It probably would have been only slightly slow to run most commands manually.

The script in question is at http://www.nostuff.org/vufind-install.txt and of course anyone is free to download (and improve, please share changes). There’s lot of potential to improve it’s ability to work on different flavours of Linux.

Multi Instance

One of the key aspects of the script is that is allows you to easily install multiple instances of VuFind on to a server. By default VuFind installs in to /usr/local/vufind and has other things (databases, apache conf) names vufind. The script prompts for an ‘instance name’ and then uses that in place of ‘vufind’.

The rational for this is my feeling that VuFind is an excellent tool for creating niche catalogues that are a subset of the full Library collection (or as someone put it a ‘tranche of the catalogue’). A branch Library, particular collection, rare books, a particular School, Core reading (short loan books), specialist resources (AV / laptop items for loan) etc. The idea of a organisation’s records being in system, rather than many (of varying quality) makes sense, but it’s reasonable for those moving their records to a central system to want to be able to search their records independently of other records (and expecting users to go to an Advanced search of using a refine option of the main catalogue is not really not an option). VuFind seems like an obvious answer to this. Especially if new instances can be set up quickly.

In fact it seems to be a failing of most of the main Library Manage Systems (ILS) and their web interfaces that being able to create lots of interfaces (slicing and dicing the underlying single large pool of records). Most require a large amount of effort to create a second web interface to a catalogue. This seems like such an obvious flaw and a barrier to moving to one system to manage resources such as books and other items for an entire organisation.

Amazon EC2

Amazon AWS is a great tool to use for this. A small instance will cost around $0.10 an hour, the micro instance is even cheaper (just over $0.02). Create an instance for ten hours and you have spent around a dollar. Mess it up, just destroy it and create a new one. No risk and no hassle (for first time users the hardest thing is probably the ssh private keys).

hifi

I’ve got the other place (here or here) for random ill-thought musings. But today I decided to put one here. Hi-Fi

< vaguely interesting background story with slight element of personal touch>

I left University in 1999. Having been in full time work before I had even finished my last term, and living in cheap shared accommodation, I could splash out. But being somewhat conservative (small ‘c’, you see that? SMALL ‘C’. I mean ‘c’. Just want us to be clear on this ok) I waited a year, before buying the hi-fi I had seen and desperatly wanted for a massive £280.

Now, should you have been looking at purchasing a stereo/hi-fi (what do we call them nowadays?) around this time, which I was, clearly, then you will be aware at just how vile they all were. Bulging like their biceps were about to explode (pendants will argue about their lack of biceps). The one pictured below is quite a modest example, laziness stopped my from finding a more accurate example.

The issue was not was not that these existed, I can understand there is a market for them, just like there is one for JD Sport. But that they dominated the market so. Walk in to a Comet or Currys and aisle after aisle was full of them. If they had 30 models on display then only one would be purchasable by sane persons.

[an aside: it looks like with the demise of (a) vinyl (b) tapes (c) club culture that design has moved on and most hifi’s on sale today have completely different dimensions. A good example is this from Onkyo, which is excellent and recommended]

But I had found one that was above all this, minimalistic in design, always good in my book, and stunning on the glass and wood stand it was displayed on where I first saw it (which was Dixons, yes I know). It was the Pioneer NS-9.

It consisted of one small unit, which was basically the hifi, a separate display, two small speakers and a woofer. It looked and sounded great. The front of the display – with all the buttons – could actually come off and act as a remote but this was more or less unworkable. The UI was awful, trying to set sleep mode or retune a preset radio setting still requires the manual.

The two small speakers and a bass combination was unusual and worked well. My flat mates and near neighbours through the years will attest to the kick arse bass it produced (literally as I type this, Open Up from Leftfield is playing).

It was the first, and still inexcusably very rare, system with FM/RDS I saw that showed not just radio station name but extended information, such as a the show, DJ, and maybe even the song that was playing, depending what the station sent out. This was way before DAB radio, and at the time at most you would normally see was the station name. I must have been one of the few reading the text that was being transmitted. I remember the Radio 1 Top 40 would show the song name and artist (and position in the chart)  which sometimes was displayed before the song was announced on air. It was if I was tapping in to some secret message no one else had access to.

Anyway, apart from the woofer, separate display and extra programme information, it was just a hifi, I still can’t quite believe I’m writing a post about it.

<finally getting around to the point of the post>

But I’m not writing about it.

For years I’ve been glancing an eye at a Hi-Fi separates system. Now isn’t the time for me to be buying one having just bought a property, but I’ve been keeping a look out for something that can replace my stereo. The CD player isn’t what it once was, and a few other niggles remain.

It started when I was a kid. I had a Matsui (Dixon’s home brand, made in Wales I think, but with a reassuring foreign name) cheap hifi. Why would anyone pay anymore than this? I can turn it up and the treble sounds high and the bass is low. It all sounds clear. What more could you want? One day, on a “I need to get out the house on a Saturday but I don’t know what to do so I’ll go to HMV and look at all the albums I could buy, again” I was in, well, HMV and Blue Monday came on. This was a time when HMV was a music shop that sold a few movies in the corner. Their sound system was amazing. I didn’t know what they all did but the black boxes when from floor to ceiling.

The song blew me away. Consumed me. Took me over. And I had it at home! I walked back to my parents house and put it straight on. It didn’t give me the same feeling. That was when I realised what a good sound system could do. And though the sound my system made sounded ‘ok’ it just didn’t have that magic. It sounded flat.

But how often do I use the CD player now? Not enough. Spotify more than anything dominates now. This isn’t always healthy. I can never settle on just playing an album, and spend forever playing favourite tracks. Anything that doesn’t grab my attention is skipped. And I know this is bad.

With audiophiles preaching about the importance of cable, good source, good amp, etc, this all goes to pot when your source is a live streaming free Spotify (subscribers get higher bit rate) going through your Macbook Pro headphone socket. So here’s the question. In this age of Spotify and similar, is the hi-fi stack still valid? I use my Hi-fi more for radio then I do CDs, yet the radio turner is often seen as an afterthought. And what about all in one compact systems, from good names such as Onyko, Cambridge Audio, Denon, Marantz, are separates really that much better than these?

One issue was the tuner, CD players and Amps start at around £100 (though it’s made clear these are bottom of the range). The cheapest tuner is £150, and that has bad reviews, and can’t do DAB+ (DAB+ is a major improvement over DAB, not man realise that the iplayer has a higher quality stream than DAB, with the possible exception of Radio 3). This is an odd situation. You can buy a decent all-in-one unit for say £200, yet a semi-decent turner separate costs about the same, but with probably less features. With the tuner on top of the CD and Amp you’re look at £350 for the most basic of basic systems, extra for the speakers. Is it worth it? How much of that expense goes on the physically boxes and extra overheads of a separates system? The reviews all make somewhat patronising comments ‘excellent sound – for a all-in-one system’, ‘good if you need a basic set in another room’ etc. But how much is snobbishness and how much is fact. Is it worth it?

So I can’t afford a new system. And not even sure I need one based on most of my listening is of Spotify, iplayer and radio 4. But I can’t decide that if I were buying a new system, which I’m not, whether I would buy an all-in-one system (such as this or this) or separates.

I’ll continue to debate what I wont be buying, but might buy if I could afford it, and update you if need be. But I still am not sure such things are needed especially as we move towards the internet/computer being the key source of music, and the main output of which is currently a crappy tiny headphone socket. If we want to hear good quality music via our computer a different route my need to be developed.

Personal URL shortener

Back in 2009 I wrote a post about creating my own url shortener. I didn’t get very far, partly due to the challenge of how to create the short url codes, and partly due to my development philosophy of having an idea, musing about it, and never getting anywhere with it. Though I did install some code Ben Charlton has written and set it up as u.nostuff.org.

Part of the drive to do this was a bizarre feeling of guilt when using ‘short urls’ from the main shortener services. Each short url I created would mean we – as a userbase – were one step closer to the URLs being one digit longer (i.e. when that service ran out of free letter/number combinations with the current number of digits). Short urls were a scarce good. Did I really need this short URL? Worse, useful services such as twitterfeed use a short url each time they add something to twitter, even if most of those links would never be followed.

However there should be no need for all of us to be using the same small set of url shorteners, if we used our own, or one for a particular group of people, or for a particular service, then we would be free to use them as we pleased. What we (internet users at large, and especially twitter users) needed was lots of URL shorteners, each able to produce short codes.

Back in April this year I came across YOURLS, an open source simple URL shortener you can install on to your site [main website | blog with new releases | Google code]. This fitted the bill exactly. Installing it was easy on my dreamhost account.

Now I just needed the short domain name. I came up with a few catchy/clever domain names, but quickly found that two digit domains were pricey or just not allowed for purchasing. especially those such as .im, ly etc.

It would have to be three digits, and if I couldn’t get or afford ‘catchy’ why not just go for something completely random? After all I just needed to remember it.

I also decided that I would buy from my existing domain name provider, rather than signing up with another organisation, especailly some of the dodgy looking ones providing sole access to unusual country top level domain names.. I also wanted to use a country that was stable and unlikely to be awkward with renewing the domain or changing the rules (sn.im didn’t work for a while while the owners argued with the Isle of Man registrar). Using 123reg, at the time the cheapest three digit domains were to be found  (amongst a couple of others) in Belgium, .be. The only concern being as the two halves of Belgium seem to drift further apart from each other, there is even talk of one day Belgium splitting up (and I bet they wouldn’t even think if my domain name during the split, well I really).

So I ended up with xd5.be. No good reason. I used a combination with an x as I figured fewer organisations will have an acronym with an x in it, the number in the name may help in that respect as well.

The solution works well, with the usual browser bookmarklet (I’ve always shortened urls before pasting them to a twitter client). One thing I did find was that I was reluctant to use it at first as I was aware I was creating the shortest urls available on this domain (i.e. one digit code) and felt the need to preserve them for stuff that was important. Now I am on to two digits I am more care free! YOURLS allows you to choose between just using lowercase or including uppercase digits as well, I went for the former while the latter will obviously provide far more combinations of characters. I could also install additional copies of the software on to subdomains, e.g. a.xd5.be b.xd5.be, these are still seven characters in total, four less than tinyurl.com. drop me a line if you would like one of these.

In all, I think it is worth doing, it keeps you in control of your links and the software you are using.

Wireless music

We live in a mega techno wonderland of always on, access anywhere, hands-free, interconnected devices no?

no.

Not when it comes to a simple thing. (more…)

html5 and nostuff

It’s hard not to think of nostuff.org and not think of blazing web standards.

So I had a go at updating the template for this here blog to make it all html5. Turns out this is quite simple.

It seems you can probably just replace your doctype with

<!DOCTYPE html>

and you’ve got yourself a html5 webpage.

The W3C validator proves it so. From there I added some of the new section elements such as header, footer, nav, aside and article. It seems that these can apply to the page (i.e. the page’s footer) or a section (the footer of a blog post, where it shows tags and date published  etc). I used various sources on the web, via Google, including a few articles, and sample sites.

So nostuff mostly validates as html5 and makes use of some of the elements above, though this doesn’t affect anything visually at the moment (I think, I really don’t have much of a clue as to what I’m doing).

I’ve created a gzip file of the theme here. You’re welcome to download and use it, though it’s not really designed to be shared (includes my analytics/adsense codes etc).

Dev8D

This isn’t a comprehensive review of dev8d, checkout the twitter stream (that link uses twapperkeeper by the way, the guy who created it was there and it was great talking to him), and wiki for and much else on the web for what went on.

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Twitter clients

From about an hour after signing up to Twitter until very recently I used Twirl on both PC and Mac as my Twitter client. I was happy with it, and still am, but had noticed people using other clients and wanted to see if I was missing anything.

I round up my findings here:

Picture 1.png

Three twitter clients

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