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It’s Now Legal to Rip CDs in the UK

As of today, it is legal to rip CDs in the United Kingdom. Because, before, it wasn’t. If you bought a CD and ripped it to add to your iTunes library, well, you were breaking the law. Seriously. (I wonder if they every prosecuted anyone for that offense…)

But “personal copying for private use” is now one of the exceptions to copyright in the UK:

“The personal copying exception permits you to make copies of media (CDs, ebooks etc) you have bought, for private purposes such as format shifting or backup without infringing copyright. For example the exception would allow you to copy content that you have bought on a CD onto your MP3 player, provided it is for your own private use.

“However, it is unlawful to make copies for friends or family, or to make a copy of something you do not own or have acquired illegally, without the copyright owner’s permission. So you are not able to copy CDs borrowed from friends, or to copy videos illegally downloaded from file-sharing websites.

“You are permitted to make personal copies to any device that you own, or a personal online storage medium, such as a private cloud. However, it is unlawful to give other people access to the copies you have made, including, for example, by allowing a friend to access your personal cloud storage.”

It’s good to know that I won’t be breaking the law when I rip some CDs this afternoon. Finally.

iPhone Repair Programs for iPhone 5 Issues

iphone5.pngIf you own an iPhone 5, you might want to check out these two Apple repair programs, even if the iPhone is no longer covered by warranty. The first, the iPhone 5 Battery Replacement Program, will replace your battery free of charge, if you meet certain eligibility requirements. Apple says:

“Apple has determined that a very small percentage of iPhone 5 devices may suddenly experience shorter battery life or need to be charged more frequently. The affected iPhone 5 devices were sold between September 2012 and January 2013 and fall within a limited serial number range.”

The second, the iPhone 5 Sleep/Wake Button Replacement Program, will fix this problem:

“Apple has determined that the sleep/wake button mechanism on a small percentage of iPhone 5 models may stop working or work intermittently. iPhone 5 models manufactured through March 2013 may be affected by this issue.”

In both cases, you can check the serial number of your iPhone 5 on Apple’s website. So if you do have an iPhone 5, check and see if you’re eligible for either of these repairs, even if it’s out of warranty.

The New Mac Pro Collects Dust

I’ve loved my Mac Pro since I got it back in June. It looks cool, it’s fast, and it’s really quiet. But I’ve recently noticed a smell in my office; a burning smell, the kind you get when you turn on a light bulb that’s been off for a long time. Yesterday, I picked up the Mac Pro – something I hadn’t done in a while – and saw that there was a lot of dust collected outside the vents on the bottom. I leaned over the top of the Mac Pro, and breathed in the air coming out the top, and it did, indeed, smell a bit of burning dust.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 3.47.36 PM.pngI took off the cover, and held it by my window, then blew through the vents from the bottom to the top; a lot of dust came out. I’m going to get a can of compressed air, and try and give it a good cleaning. Any dust that goes in the bottom may accumulate inside the “unified thermal core,” and that would be what smells a bit.

If you have a Mac Pro, you might want to look at the bottom vents, and see if they’ve got dust around them. I could blame Titus the Cat, whose hair is certainly everywhere in the house, but, since he doesn’t go on my desk, I’d say it’s not really his fault. But the design of the Mac Pro is such that it’s going to pick up any dust on your desk.

Will Apple Finally Pay Their Fair Share in Taxes? And It’s Not Just Apple…

The European Commission is finally planning to crack down on Apple’s creative tax avoidance schemes in Ireland. The company has huge amounts of money stashed overseas, paying only minimal corporate income tax – 2% or less – because of a “special deal” they made with the Irish government 20 years ago. According to the European Commission, this counts as “state aid,” which is anti-competitive.

But Apple’s not the only one. There have been rumblings in the UK about Amazon’s avoidance of paying taxes in the country. Amazon UK funnels all its sales – both digital and physical – through a subsidiary in Luxembourg, benefitting, like Apple, from very low rates of income tax.

While none of this is illegal, it is, to a certain extent, immoral. Yes, these companies have a responsibility to their shareholders to get the best deal, and the fact that international tax laws have allowed this is the real problem. But it seems that within the OECD, and the EU, there is finally motivation to resolve these issues.

Take, for example, any sort of product sold by Amazon in the UK. Amazon’s lower income tax means they can cut the price compared to a local store or website, harming competition, and the UK economy. This is similar to what has long been the case in the US, where Amazon didn’t need to charge sales tax on anything they sold, giving them an advantage over local stores that do have to change state sales tax.

But on a broader level, this allows this sort of manipulation:

“For example, search giant Google takes advantage of tax treaties to channel more than US$8-billion in untaxed profits out of Europe and Asia each year and into a subsidiary that is tax resident in Bermuda, which has no income tax.”

This will affect many companies, not just Apple:

“A Reuters investigation last year found that three quarters of the 50 biggest U.S. technology companies channeled revenues from European sales into low tax jurisdictions like Ireland and Switzerland, rather than reporting them nationally.”

Apple, however, seems to be the best at this, with huge amounts of cash stashed away in tax havens. That money would be better used in the US where Apple is located, and it should be taxed, at the same rate as the rest of the company’s earnings, so Apple’s profits – in part due to the American legal system and business infrastructure – benefit the people in the country that supports the company.

Download the OS X Bash Security Update to Protect Your Mac from Shellshock Exploit

There’s been a lot of news about a security risk that affects multiple platforms called Shellshock. Apple has released a security update, that patches the bash shell, but it’s not available through the Mac App Store or Software Update. If you want to apply this update to your Mac – which you should, if your Mac accepts connections from computers outside your local network – go to this Apple technical document to learn more about the update, and download the update from Apple’s downloads page. You’ll find updates for OS X 10.9 Mavericks, 10.9 Mountain Lion and 10.7 Lion.

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I find it odd that Apple says that these updates are “recommended for all users,” but that they are not pushing it out through the usual channels.

It’s Not Just Pop Music That’s Over-Compressed

Much has been written about “the loudness wars,” the trend for music to be over-compressed. This isn’t the kind of compression one talks about when discussing, say, MP3 files; this is audio compression, or dynamic range compression, which reduces the differences in loudness in a song so the entire song can be louder. When a song is over-compressed, it JUST SOUNDS LOUD with no nuance. (I’ve written an article explaining how this works.)

This is very common among pop music, in part to make it sound “punchier.” But it’s starting to creep up in other types of music. I received a new album by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider last week. I went to start playing it this morning, and it nearly blew my speakers; my amp’s volume had been set at a normal level for the last music I had listened to, which was an album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

I was very surprised at the extreme volume of the first track I listened to, so I opened it in Fission, my audio editor of choice. Here’s what I saw:

Fission001.png

The waveform shows volume, and when you see the volume hitting the top and bottom of the waveform, that’s compression; it’s also a sign of clipping, which can introduce distortion. It’s very odd that this album is so loud. Granted, it’s a sort of crossover album; it’s designed to try and break out of the standard classical music mold, and I applaud Brooklyn Rider for their music. But I think they’ve made a very big mistake allowing the album to be produced this way.
I looked at the second track:

Fission002.png

More excess compression. I looked at others, which were just as compressed. But not all tracks are; for example, here’s the final track:

Fission004.png

That looks normal; the way music should look when it’s not overly compressed. There are highs and lows; loud sections and softer sections. But there are none of those sections where all the music is clipped.

I won’t listen to pop or rock music that’s over-compressed, and I certainly won’t listen to classical music that’s produced in the same way. This just shouldn’t happen for a recording of a string quartet.

The Grateful Dead Get High-Res; But They’re a Bit Confused

As more and more vendors and artists try to jump on the high-resolution bandwagon, it’s clear that a lot of them are confused. Take this example of the Grateful Dead. Yesterday, the band send out an email saying that they now have “High Definition Dead.”

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And they are offering high-definition – or high-resolution – files in “AAC and FLAC.”

Oops. It’s not AAC, but ALAC, or Apple Lossless, as you can see when you go to their website:

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Okay, so it’s only one letter, but it is an example of the confusion around these file formats.

But there’s something else: they make a distinction between Apple Lossless files and “HD FLAC” files. They could provide high-resolution files in either format; both Apple Lossless and FLAC support the 24-bit 192 kHz format they are offering. And to confuse things even more, the Grateful Dead have long sold CDs in the HDCD format; they’re the only artist or label I’ve ever seen selling these. These are hybrid CDs that “encodes the equivalent of 20 bits worth of data in a 16-bit digital audio signal by using custom dithering, audio filters, and some reversible amplitude and gain encoding,” according to a Wikipedia article. (I’ve never understood what this is, but it sounds like some sort of lossy compression used for the extra bit depth.)

You won’t find many of these CDs; this may be, in part, because Microsoft bought the format from its original creator, and most likely has some arcane licensing rules for it.

In any case, the Grateful Dead always highlight the fact that their CD releases are in HDCD format, and now they’re talking about “high definition Dead” downloads; this will only confuse people.

Book Review: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel – Pandemic, Shakespeare and the Birth of a New Civilization

Station Eleven.jpgOn a stage in Toronto, Arthur Leander is playing King Lear. At 51, it’s finally the right time for him to play this demanding role. However, it will be his last. In the first scene of this novel, he dies on stage from a heart attack. That night, it’s clear that a pandemic is spreading across the world faster than any disease in the past. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) tells the tale of the post-collapse world that is soon born.

The story jumps ahead twenty years as a young woman, Kirsten Raymonde, who was a mere child onstage at the time of Leander’s death, is wandering in North America – or what is left of it – as part of the Traveling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians who play music and perform Shakespeare’s plays for the survivors.

While the premise of the novel comes from Stephen King (in his The Stand, a virus nicknamed Captain Trips wipes out most of the world’s population; in Station Eleven, it’s the Georgia Flu, named after the country, not the state, that kills 99% of people), the story is quite different. This is not a horror story, and there are no zombies, just normal people adapting to a new way of life.

Ms. Mandel deftly weaves a tale that shifts back and forth between pre- and post-collapse America and Canada, looking at the past of Arthur Leander, the people he knew, and his connection with Kirsten Raymonde. The plotting is interesting, and there’s no attempt to look too closely at the new world; it’s more about linking the past and the present, in an intriguing web of connections. However, the characterization is a bit thin; there’s not enough time to get to know any of the characters, when they appear, to understand why they act the way they do.

This is an entertaining read, and Ms. Mandel presents the new world in an interesting light. However, a lot of her premises about the way people react to this collapse seem wrong. She has a world – well, America – where people group in small settlements, a few dozen, a couple hundred, rather than having them live together in larger towns. This might make the novel easier to plot, but I had the feeling, when reading the book, that it was more a way of avoiding having too many characters, or having to focus much on the consequences of the new way of life.

Her characters do reflect on what they’ve lost; those who remember the pre-collapse world, at least. But the situations that the Traveling Symphony encounter are a bit simplistic, and seem more like vehicles to get Kirsten Raymonde to the end of the story, rather than actual incidents that may occur in a lawless world.

I read this book quite quickly, and I enjoyed it. I feel that Ms. Mandel could have gone a lot further with her depiction of a world after the fall, but that was clearly not her goal. She does tell a good story, but don’t expect a real post-apocalyptic novel here. (It’s interesting that this type of novel has almost become a genre on its own.) Pick this book up for a good story, and a quick read.

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