Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn



Save 50% on All Take Control Books in Back to School Sale


It’s time for Take Control Books’ 50% off back to school sale. Buy now to expand your ebook library at half off; it’s the perfect opportunity to polish your tech skills, and start working more efficiently.

Grab my Take Control of iTunes 11: The FAQ, Take Control of Scrivener 2, or Take Control of LaunchBar now for half price. (Note: if you buy my LaunchBar book now, you’ll get a free update to the new edition, which covers the recently-released LaunchBar 6, when it’s released. I’m finishing it up right now, so it won’t be long.)

tc-itunes     tc-launchbar    tc-scrivener

And while you’re at at, snag a few of the other great Take Control books. This offer is good through the end of August 25th, 2014. Save 50% on all ebook orders today!

What makes Gormenghast a masterpiece?


“Why is it that the three books usually (and according to experts incorrectly) named the Gormenghast trilogy never achieved the level of success of that notable fantasy behemoth, The Lord of the Rings? I am not suggesting that the two works should be viewed as counterparts, and yet in very different ways they are two cornerstones of fantasy writing in the second half of the 20th century. One is universally known by anyone who’s ever become a reader; I’m lucky if I find one person who has even heard of the other in any given audience of two hundred or more.”

via What makes Gormenghast a masterpiece? | Marcus Sedgwick | Books | theguardian.com.

An interesting examination of this little-known series of “fantasy” novels. I recall trying to read Gormenghast a few decades ago. I think I read one and a half books then gave up. I do recall the intricately obsessive nature of the books, though, and perhaps it’s time to try them again. They’re available in one-volume editions; at 960 (UK edition) or 1160 (US edition) pages, they’re enough to keep one immersed for quite a while. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

And, I have a kitty named Titus (though he’s not named after Titus Groan, but Titus Andronicus).

Well-Crafted Study Shows Listeners Cannot Distinguish Between CD-Quality and High-Resolution Music Files


Archimago has posted results of a detailed, well-crafted study and survey about high-resolution music. He provided 140 listeners with three pairs of files (read the procedure used for the test), and asked them to determine which one was the high-resolution, 24-bit file.

The results were as expected. For two of the three files, the results were 50/50, exactly what you would get if you guessed randomly. For one of the files – the one with the greatest dynamic range, which should have benefited most from the additional resolution, 47% of people picked the correct file as being the 24-bit version, and 53% got it wrong. Again, nearly the same as random.


What’s most interesting about this test is the fact that it seems to have been very well constructed. The tester asked a number of questions to be able to analyze the listeners performing the test, including their musical experience, approximate value of their stereo equipment, and their confidence in their answers.

For example, those who claimed to be very confident or certain of their answers were still either 50/50 or more wrong than right:


Musicians who were more confident than average got even worse results:


And those with some experience of recording, mixing and editing, with high confidence, were only slightly better than random:


Most interesting were the results of people who claim to be audio hardware reviewers. They were more often wrong than right:


The article concludes:

In a naturalistic survey of 140 respondents using high quality musical samples sourced from high-resolution 24/96 digital audio collected over 2 months, there was no evidence that 24-bit audio could be appreciably differentiated from the same music dithered down to 16-bits using a basic algorithm (Adobe Audition 3, flat triangular dither, 0.5 bits).

And Archimago went on to say:

The results of this survey appear to support the notion that high bit-depth music (24-bits) does not provide audible benefits despite the fact that objectively measurable DACs capable of > 16-bit resolution are readily available at very reasonable cost these days.

This is a solid, well-crafted test that shows, yet again, that high-resolution files don’t sound better than CDs.

Why Apple’s Weather App for iOS Sucks


A video on Macworld today reminded me how bad Apple’s Weather app for iOS is. Serenity Caldwell shows how to use this app, but neglects to point out that it’s one of the hardest weather apps to view.

Here are two weather apps, side by side. On the left is Apple’s app; on the right is the Yahoo! weather app.

2014-08-15 14.34.23.png   2014-08-15 14.34.19.png

I don’t know why Apple chose to use such low-contrast colors in this app, but it’s extremely hard to see if your vision isn’t sharp, especially outdoors, which is one place where you might want to check the weather. The fonts are smaller, and there’s lots of wasted space.

Since Apple’s app uses Yahoo!’s forecasts, it’s much easier for me to use the Yahoo! app, and this may be the case for lots of people.

The History of Hidden Album Tracks


“On July 2, 1969, Paul McCartney recorded “Her Majesty” live with his acoustic guitar in Abbey Road Studios. The song, less than 30 seconds long, took three takes get down. It was meant to appear between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” on Abbey Road‘s now-famous B-Side Suite, but on July 30, McCartney decided he didn’t like that sequence. He asked the tape operator, John Kurlander — a young man just starting out in music production — to get rid of “Her Majesty” all together. Kurlander, as the story goes, knew to never destroy a Beatles recording, so he removed the song and instead tacked it on to the end of the album, leaving 14 seconds of blank tape between it and “The End.” When the album was pressed, “Her Majesty” didn’t appear on labels or album covers, making it one of pop music’s first hidden tracks.”

via The History of Hidden Album Tracks | Wondering Sound.

I was interviewed for this article, because I don’t like hidden tracks. It’s interesting to see the lengths that some artists have gone to in creating hidden tracks. But I still think it’s a futile exercise in doing something that’s cool just for the sake of being cool.

How much is a [classical] recording worth?


“How much is a recording worth to you? What’s its value – both artistic and in monetary terms? This is something that’s been brought into question quite starkly in recent years. Firstly, the increasing numbers of super-budget back-catalogue reissues – or even new recordings from the likes of Naxos – have caused many a buyer to pause a little longer before shelling out for a full-price disc. More recent still, the rapid developments in online music – first downloads, then streaming – have made most of the history of music available for free or at the very least through an astonishingly good value subscription model.

How things have changed. An industry colleague this week told me of the price to a record collector, back in 1963, of Herbert von Karajan’s first Beethoven symphony cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic, issued by Deutsche Grammophon (the Ninth Symphony is the subject of this month’s Classics Reconsidered – see page 108). The eight-LP set, when purchase tax was added on, cost £14 and 8 shillings (£14.40). At the time, the average British weekly wage was about £15. In the US it cost $47.98 – about 40 per cent of the average weekly American wage at the time, but even so, still a very significant investment. (As indeed was DG’s in making the recording – the label spent 1.5m Deutschmarks and had to sell at least 100,000 to break even. They need not have worried as, one decade on, it had sold 1 million copies.) The set’s just been remastered and handsomely packaged. You can now pick it up for about £45, less than a tenth of today’s average weekly wage.

via How much is a recording worth? | gramophone.co.uk.

(I’ve added the word “classical” above; the excerpt comes from Gramophone, a classical music magazine. Readers on the site know it’s not referring to a pop or rock recording.)

While music sales have been decreasing, no one seems to have addressed the fact that the cost of music has dropped as well. Not just from the extreme mentioned above, but the price of an album. If you look at the standard $10 price of a download, that’s just a baseline. While iTunes doesn’t discount, Amazon does, with steep discounts on many new and popular albums, with some for just $3 or $4.

In classical music, the precipitous drop in per-disc price has been astounding, and it’s certainly a good thing for those who buy a lot of music. Yes, new, single CDs by big names cost the same, but lots of classical music can be had for a pittance. With the price of box sets dragging down the general price of CDs, it’s increasingly difficult to justify full-price any more. Even small box sets – say, 5 or 6 discs – are now sold at the price of a single disc, while bigger sets often come in at $1 – $2 a disc. A set that once would have cost hundreds of dollars, such as Vladimir Horowitz Live At Carnegie Hall (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), is only $106 or £72 on Amazon as of today.

It’s tough for the recording industry to keep a balance between these low prices and profits. With classical labels selling fewer copies of each release – nothing sells like the million copies of the Beethoven symphonies mentioned in the article – it’s harder to break even.

The Committed Podcast Discusses Amazon, Publishing, and More


The Committed Podcast Icon 1400x1400 01On this week’s episode of The Committed podcast, Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths and I discuss the current kerfuffle between Amazon and Hachette over ebook pricing, the changes to Gatekeeper – the security feature in OS X that works with sandboxing – in OS X 10.9.5, and more.

Listen to The Committed, Episode 45: Not Orwellian.

Sony Releases Album of the Day iOS App: Will They Promote Classical Music?


screen322x572.jpegI doubt it.

The goal of this app is to promote 24-hour discounts on albums from well-known artists. I can’t imagine that Sony considers any classical releases deserving of this treatment. I’ve downloaded it, and turned on push notifications, so I can see what they tout; maybe I’ll be surprised.

(And I don’t only buy classical music, so I may actually be interested in other albums they promote.)

You can get the app from the iTunes Store.

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