Archive for March, 2007

A Letter to eMusic

eMusic are more or less the good guys of the online digital music business. They are cheap, they sell “good” music – jazz, indie, progressive, avantgarde. They sell high-quality MP3 files and they don’t use CRAP (DRM). They give quite a lot of music for free. All that wasn’t enough for me, though. Still, i really wanted to give them a chance and offered them an opportunity to exploit me. Here’s the letter i sent them:

Hi there,

This “bad feedback” is totally subjective. As the famous break-up line goes, “it’s not you, it’s me”.

You see – i just don’t like to listen to MP3′s. Even if i love the music, i just don’t experience quite the same excitement when i listen to a file on my computer as i do when i listen to a CD or a record or even a magnetic tape.

CD’s, records and tapes are something that i can touch and hold in my hands; MP3′s are just files. I just don’t like them so much. Even if i get them for free, i don’t *enjoy* listening to them.

I downloaded WinAmp and tried your generous free 50 MP3′s offer. I found a lot of great music – Trail of Dead, the Microphones, Stephen Malkmus. The music’s great! And the subscription price is fair! Really! But as i listened to Malkmus’ great “Face The Truth” i wanted to read the CD booklet. But i didn’t have it – i just had a bunch of MP3′s. Even if i would be able to read the whole of the booklet online, i wouldn’t enjoy it half as much as reading a printed one. And no, i don’t want to print one at home – buying good paper and ink would cost me more than buying a CD. And i don’t want to listen to a burned CD. It just disgusts me. I want the original CD and i will probably go to a CD store and buy it. Which is a kind of a rip-off, ‘cuz i already payed for the *music*. Again – it’s not eMusic’s fault; it’s my crazy completism.

But why won’t you make profit out of it? Consider this possibility: I download a whole album on eMusic. If i like it, i can buy a discounted CD at some online CD store. I’d love it! I get access to a lot of good legal music downloads, the record company gets what it wants, eMusic gets subscription fees.

I tried looking for something like it at your website, but couldn’t find it. If there IS something like it and i missed it, please tell me! ‘Cuz if there isn’t, i will, unfortunately, have to cancel my subscription.

Thanks for understanding.

Here’s their reply:

Hello:

Thank you for contacting eMusic Customer Support.

Thank you for taking the time out for the feedback, I will be sure to pass it onto our content and marketing departments for their information.

If you are using the most current version of turned, there is a feature that automatically adds artwork to your albums if the artwork is available online.

If you do not receive artwork with your downloads, you can import album artwork from our site into turned to ensure that the album artwork will appear when playing songs. Here are the steps:

1. Launch tunes. Make sure you’ve already added your tracks to your tunes library.

2. Make sure you are set to “Browse” mode by clicking the eye on the upper right hand corner.

3. Locate the album you’d like to add artwork to by first locating the artist in the Artist column and then locating the album title in the Album column.

4. Click once to highlight the album title.

5. Locate the appropriate artwork on the eMusic album page. With your left mouse button, select the image and *hold down* your mouse button.

6. Drag the image to the lower-left corner of turned labeled “Drag Album Artwork Here”. (If it says “Now Playing” then click the bar for it to display “Drag Album Artwork here.”)

7. When you see a “+” sign in the window, release your mouse button. The artwork you selected will appear in the window and will now appear for each track of the album you selected.

Please let us know if you have any further questions.

eMusic’s MP3s are nowVRR-encoded using the encoder LAME 3.96. Our MP3s are not restricted in any way.

OurVRR-encoding ranges from 32kbs to 320kbs, averaging around 192bpss. A portion (

Please see the following help section article for further information:

http://www.emusic.com/help/technical.html#q10

The ID3 tags we use are version 1.0 and version 2.3.

We do not currently include the release year in our tags but hopefully should be adding it soon.

Please let us know if we can be of further assistance

Regards,

Carlos

eMusic Customer Support Team

What’s to say? First, it’s automated. They didn’t really bother to read my letter. They thought that i’m just another stupid American who can’t figure out how to download files. I wanted to give them an opportunity to use my weaknesses and take my money. They didn’t want it.

Furthermore, i’ve got a strong hunch that Carlos isn’t a real person. In the past i received replies from several customer service representatives named Carlos in different organizations. I doubt that it’s a coincidence. Might it be the default name for some CRM bot?

If you happen to be an entrepreneur, please go on and use me. I meant every word of that letter.

Maqaf

There’s a hyphen in Hebrew, which doesn’t look like the regular hyphen. It is called “maqaf” (מקף) and it is aligned with the top of the line like this: ־.

It appears in Torah scrolls and in most printed books and newspapers, however it doesn’t appear on keyboards, so most Israelis just write a minus instead when they type. So בית־ספר (beit-sefer, school, lit. book-house) becomes בית-ספר or even בית ספר. The rules for using the maqaf are not taught in schools, so many people – me too – use it inconsistently and often omit it altogether.

Apparently it has issues with Unicode – according to the Unicode standard, maqaf should be used as the hyphen for Hebrew, and proper implementation of Unicode will process it as a right-to-left character unlike the minus, which is a left-to-right character and should be used only with numbers. However, most popular implementations of Unicode (read: Microsoft Word and probably most web browsers, including Firefox) are not really correct. They make life easy for Israelis and treat the minus as the right-to-left hyphen, so it is easy to write this:

החנות פתוחה בשעות 09:00 – 16:00

(The shop is open 09:00 – 16:00)

The problem is that it disregards traditional Hebrew typography and few people seem to care. OpenOffice.org is correct as far as Unicode goes, but most Israelis think that it is just stupid that they can’t write the usual way and throw centuries of our printing tradition to garbage.

On my laptop i made a keyboard mapping that includes the maqaf and i try to use it whenever i can in email and documents. I use it in handwriting too. Some people on the Hebrew Wikipedia use it, although it is controversial. Some free-thinking Hebrew bloggers use it in their blogs (see Digital Words). And that’s about it.

But today i was pleasantly surprised. The maqaf appeared in an article about American junk-food on YNet (i wrote talkback 25). YNet is Israel’s number one online news source. I don’t think that all the articles use it – probably the author of this article was a crazy type like me, or maybe he used some auto-conversion software. I think that i’ll send an email to YNet asking them to use it everywhere.

Please tell me if you want the keyboard mapping with maqaf that i made. It is for Windows. If you use Linux, BSD or Mac, you are probably clever enough to find it on your system by yourself. If you have a server on which i can host it so the public will be able to download it, you’ll make me joyous.

Jump around

If you have me on RSS (how nice of you) and you see posts and comments jumping around and appearing as new again and again, it happens because i’m trying out the abilities of WordPress. Thanks for the patience.

I have also decided to migrate the posts from the old blog by hand. Very slowly.

People are a problem

Making the world a better place is hard. In the last few days i sent OGG files of our music to two people with simple instructions on downloading the OGG codec and both of them said that they couldn’t hear them.

People don’t like downloading codecs. That’s why porn sites often say something like: “There’s no need to download any codecs to watch our videos!”

People don’t realize that they can be sued for using MP3.

Now what can i do about it?

Made Me Cry – Hey

Arcade Fire live at Rock en Seine (Flash)

Arcade Fire released two albums. Everybody agrees that both are growers—you need to listen to them for a few times before you can really love them. The first one may have been called manipulative—several band members lost their family members during the recording, so they called the record “Funeral” and dedicated several songs to their families, most notably the unbelievable closer “In the Backseat”. The record went on to top a lot of critics’ best-of-2005 list. And no, it’s not manipulative—it is really good and all the praise was well deserved.

A week ago they released their new record Neon Bible (Flash). With such a title (taken from a novel) and a booklet with lyrics typeset like bible verses and a black-and-white photograph of a girl reading a book on every page it may look like an overblown and overambitious attempt at a sophomore album. And on the first listen it really sounded like an album full of opening tracks, big-sounding but not too engaging. After a few more listens, though, it took a shape. The next-to-last track, No Cars Go, is my favorite, and probably everyone else’s. The music reminds a little of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight Tonight”, but far better. The lyrics are unusual for the band, which often employs wordiness, retro imagery and lines in French—here the lyrics are very simple, short and repetitive. The result is the best rock anthem of the decade so far. And it comes from a bunch of Canadian Québécois geeks.

Watch the video closely. I would really like to learn to play accordion now.

Delegation

It hurts me when people near me criticize music harshly. I’m not talking about reviews in the press, but about personal conversations. It is especially strong with music that i like, but it doesn’t have to be – even bad musicians put some portion of spirit and love into what they do.

Last night i was in the car with Hadar and Dylan’s “Time Out of Mind” (1997) was in the CD player. At Cold Irons Bound Hadar said:

— “What?.. Is that Bob Dylan? ‘Cuz that’s … shit.”

— “Eh?”

— “Well, at least compared to his older stuff.”

— “Shit?! Please don’t say that. You know how i hate it.”

— “Well, i didn’t mean ‘shit’, but you know … compared to his older stuff. I know that you hate it when i keep criticizing music harshly and repeat it without stopping, but i only said ‘shit’ once …”

— “No, i don’t know, and you don’t have to repeat that word again. Please. It really hurts me. On behalf of other musicians i take a personal blow.”

— “Really? Is it that bad?”

Yes, it is. Later i thought about the part of “taking a personal blow on behalf of others”, and it made me think of Jesus. I never bought this Christian story about this sad man that takes the humanity’s sins upon himself. Christians believe that this story is very important, complete with the gory details of The Passion. Its reflection in Narnia looked even more ridiculous (i only watched the movie, the book may be better). But this thought about myself being hurt by criticism about other people, whom i don’t necessarily like, made me appreciate the philosophical part of Christianity a bit more.

I still don’t buy the story about Jesus’ being God’s son, though.

If programming languages were bands

One of the reasons that i neglected my old blog was that i had the flu this winter twice. While i was sick, i typed this out on the laptop. I’m not too proud of it, but i think that it has some potential. If anyone can improve it, go on – improve and distribute, CC-BY-SA.

If programming languages were rock bands, which language would be which band?

  • Visual Basic – Rolling Stones. Going strong after too many years.
  • C – Beatles. You don’t have to like it, but you can’t deny its importance.
  • C++ – Led Zeppelin. Mostly great, but sometimes over the top.
  • Java – Queen. Not always great and often over the top – but fun.
  • C# – The Darkness. It looks like Led Zeppelin and Queen, but it doesn’t get far without a marketing department.
  • Ruby – Some J-Pop band. Quite a lot of people love it. Much more people don’t understand it, but admit that manga-lovers will probably rule the world soon – for better or for worse.
  • or: Ruby – Coldplay. The principle of least surprise.
  • Perl – Radiohead. Everyone loved it in the 90′s, but few people understand what’s going on with it since about year 2000.
  • or: Perl – Velvet Underground. Not everyone learned it, but those who did, invented their own language.
  • or: Perl – Sonic Youth. Either you think that it’s just noise, or that nothing can be better than it is.
  • or: Perl – Pixies. You can do a lot in two minutes. Or two lines.
  • or: Perl – David Bowie. There’s more than one way to do … it.
  • Perl 6 – David Bowie. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.
  • Python – Kenny G. ‘Nuff said.
  • or: Python – Sigur Rós. Beautiful, but puts you to sleep.
  • or: Python – Def Leppard. Just joking. (This joke had a point, but i forgot what it was.)
  • Pascal – Pink Floyd. Groundbreaking in the 70′s; dismembered; agonizing for too long.
  • Assembly – Obviously, Kraftwerk.
  • PHP – Michael Jackson. Dangerous.
  • or: PHP – Any band at all. You can google for the lyrics of any song. Later, when you’ll sing it to your friends, few of them will notice that they are wrong. Probably not even yourself.
  • or: PHP – Gong. Pot head pixies.
  • COBOL – I considered writing Chuck Berry (for the age) or Nick Cave (for the wordiness), but decided not to insult them.
  • Eiffel – Sorry, I don’t know a lot of French music and I don’t really want to.

Like braille to the night

You don’t need to understand anything about computers to read this entry. It’s a cultural observation.

For a long time – since about 1999 – Perl has been my favorite programming language. Formally i studied Pascal, C, C++, Java, DCL and SQL, but i haven’t used them much outside the studies. I’ve done almost all of my real work in Perl and i’m quite proud of it.

Lately i started to think about it. There are other programming languages which can compete with Perl. Perl’s best known strengths are price (zero), freedom (“open source”), dynamism (no need to worry about memory allocation) and portability (ability to run on almost any computer). But the same can be said about Python and Ruby and a significant number of people are sure that those two are even better. Java and the .NET family of languages have lovely and colorful tools and rich and robust libraries of reusable code. Yet i’ve never really came to love any other language as much as Perl, which still remains my absolute favorite. And then i understood why.

It’s the Perl culture that fits me so well. Yair Garbuz, a well-known representative of the current Israeli intelligentsia, said once: “I don’t speak to anyone in his language; If I have to speak to him in his language, it means that I don’t respect him enough to think that he’ll understand me if i speak my own.” The Perl culture doesn’t try to speak to me in my language. It considers me smart enough to learn to understand it.


Oh (edit): Stupid, stupid. I did use a lot of DCL for work.

So this is act three

Blogger.com latest update made it unusable for me, so i start a new blog here.

I’ll migrate the old posts here Some Time Soon.

Thanks for your patience and welcome to my new home.



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