February 11th, 2008

The BBC's NowPlaying prototype looks very promising:

The idea is to take the basic now-playing data from our music radio networks, throw it at the web, and see what we can get back. We could then use this, and other BBC API’s to create a pretty rich visualisation console pretty much automatically. We had a quick brainstorm and decided that we’d use the excellent, the incredible MusicBrainz, and the usual suspects Flickr, YouTube, and LyricsFly.

Now, before we let you take a look, some caveatsɉ۬

  • This is a functional data demo – there’s been no visual treatment at all. In fact, it looks pretty pants […]
  • There’s still some work to do to optimise the results (When we play ‘Oasis’ you can guess what kind of images we get back from Flickr…)

[Via cityofsound]

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February 1st, 2008

The online store for Dutch retailer HEMA is a wonder to behold.

Load it up, then leave the front page to its own devices for a minute or two…

[Via Very Short List]

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Slippery slope

January 25th, 2008

Charles Arthurs says All this online sharing has to stop:

The IFPI – the International Federation of Phonographic Industries – is the global music industry organisation whose very name tells you how long ago progress overtook it. On Thursday it published its digital music report for 2008, which says boldly that "the spread of unlicensed music on ISP networks is choking revenues to record companies and investment in artists, despite a healthy increase in digital sales in 2007, up approximately 40% on the previous year". […]

The IFPI's solution? Sort it out at the internet service provider level. "ISP cooperation, via systematic disconnection of infringers and the use of filtering technologies, is the most effective way copyright theft can be controlled. Independent estimates say up to 80 per cent of ISP traffic comprises distribution of copyright-infringing files."

You know what I say? Damn right. Let's get ISPs to stop copyright infringement. But, um, music people? Better form an orderly queue. You think you were the first to suffer from your content getting ripped off and spread to the four corners of the earth? Get to the back of the line, bud. There's a few people ahead of you. […]

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January 15th, 2008

Idiomag attempts to generate a personalised online music magazine, based on information you enter about your favourite bands or (more intriguingly) on your profile at an online music profiling service like

The site is quite attractive and easy to use, but I'm not sure it's all that useful. I fed it my account details and it produced a 'taster' intended to show what I could expect if I registered:

  1. A Billboard magazine article about the 20th anniversary edition of U2's The Joshua Tree.
  2. A review of last year's compilation album by Garbage.
  3. A review of an album by an R&B artist I've never heard of by the name of Baby Boy Prince.
  4. The Wikipedia article about industrial rock.

So, having picked up the four top artists from my profile, idiomag came up with two reviews of old material re-released last year, one article picked up because the artist's name overlaps somewhat with that of Prince Rogers Nelson, and a Wikipedia article about the genre in which my number four artist works. Not a very inspiring taster.

In fairness, it probably didn't help that with Garbage on hiatus and U2 between albums there's not much new material to be found about them online right now. If I'd trialled the service when the bands were releasing new material, doing interviews and so on it's quite possible that I'd have found myself reading articles that told me something I didn't know. The sampler might do better to concentrate on showing the user more extensive information about two acts, to give a better taste of how the service will work when an act is doing the rounds of the media.

Alternatively, the taster could have been more interesting if it had covered, say, four artists from my top 20, or six acts scattered throughout my top 50 with at least one from between 40 and 50. I assume the strategy is to show potential users articles about their very favourite artists as this'll help encourage them to sign up, but if your musical tastes are as mainstream as mine then this seems to just pick up rather dull, not especially timely content. Perhaps this is a sign that the service is better suited to people whose tastes are more obscure, who may appreciate the service as a way to locate information about their favourite artists, or perhaps it's just that you need to use it over time with a greater range of artists to get the full benefit.

It's not a bad concept, but I don't think the taster does it any favours.

[Via Fabric of Folly, via city of sound]

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Another bright idea from Sony

January 8th, 2008

When I read John Scalzi's description of the Sony MusicPass system I was convinced he was joking.

Sony BMG spokesperson: We’re pleased to announce we are the final major music corporation to release electronic tracks without that pesky DRM! All you have to do is leave your house, go to a selected retail outlet, buy a special card there, go back to your house, scratch off the back of the card to find a code, go to our special MusicPass Web site, enter said code, and download one the 37 titles we have available, from Celine Dion to the Backstreet Boys!

I wonder how Sony found a way to get a scratchcard to install a rootkit on your PC…

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January 8th, 2008

Three articles looking at different facets of the problems facing print journalism.

Roy Greenslade visits three newsrooms coping with the transition to delivery of content in print and online.

In a sense, the online revolution is like a train journey without a destination. As soon as one paper arrives at a station that had once appeared to be a terminus, another title has built a new line and sped onwards. Despite the differences, everyone seems clear about the general direction to take towards an otherwise mysterious objective: the future of news-gathering and news delivery is tied to the screen

David Byrne spends an afternoon at the New York Times and sees the process of putting together a front page from the inside.

Yesterday there was no obvious or massive breaking story, so some larger, ongoing stories (the credit debacle, for example) continued to evolve and develop in important and significant ways – although there was really nothing spectacular to hang these developments on. At one point the metro desk suggested a story about non-operating elevators at the Bronx Family court. I thought it was a good piece, as the families and children were often denied assistance or legal help because of the damn elevators – "For the want of a nail, the battle was lost" sort of thing. But OK, in the context of everything else that day, maybe it seemed that more "weight" was desired.

Haggling over the front page might seem anachronistic; soon readers might be customizing their own front pages or an algorithm might do it for them. I would argue that, as in a lot of fields (like music), a filter is more valuable than sheer information. In fact, a filter is information, in the strict sense. And a front page – whether material or virtual – is a filter that tells us what news the paper has decided we should be aware of at a glance. Granted. a nice picture (they're getting increasingly arty these days) will draw in browsers at a newsstand as much as a headline. But for most of us, this aggregator that is that daily conference meeting is still a pretty good system.

Homicide: Life on the Street creator David Simon bitterly regrets the arrival of "the white guys".

"I love this place," Simon told the Stoop audience last April, speaking of his frame of mind at age 22, when he was starting his career as a Sun reporter:

This is the place of H. L. Mencken, of Frank Kent, of William Manchester. It's like you can touch things that you can be proud of. I just have to do good work for its own sake … I'm basically happy, and it's like the least ambitious I am in my life. Until … it gets sold out of town. And these guys come in from Philly. The white guys from Philly. And I say that with all the contempt you can muster for the phrase white guys. Soulless motherfuckers. Everything that Malcolm X said in that book before he got converted back to humanity – no, no, he was right in the first place. These guys were so without humanity. And it was the kind of journalism – how do I describe bad journalism? It's not that it's lazy, it's that whenever they hear the word Pulitzer, they become tumescent. They become engorged … All they wanted to do was win prizes … I watched them single-handedly destroy The Sun.

[For the benefit of British readers, Simon is referring to the Baltimore Sun, not Rupert Murdoch's tabloid.]

[Roy Greenslade story via Memex 1.1, David Simon profile via]

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One for the .sigfile

January 2nd, 2008

On computer security:

I use my cat's name for a password. But he is called zo4W*!@n32G+ and I change his name every 60 days.

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Is "Sonyesque" a word?

December 11th, 2007

I thought only Sony were so schizoid as to sabotage their own hardware in the interests of protecting us from ourselves. It turns out that Western Digital are at it too:

Due to unverifiable media license authentication, the following audio and video file types cannot be shared with different users using WD Anywhere Access.

File Extension File Description
AAC Advanced Audio Coding
AIF Audio Interchange File
AIFC Audio Interchange File
AIFF Audio Interchange File Format
AMF DSMIA/Asylum Module File
ASF Advanced Streaming Format
ASX Advanced Stream Redirector
AVI Audio Video Interleave
CDA CD Audio
FAR Farandoyle Tracker Music Module
IT Impulse Tracker
ITZ Impulse Tracker
KAR Karaoke MIDI
MDZ Cubic Player/Cross-View Music Module Description
MOV QuickTime Video
MP1 MPEG Layer 1 (Audio)
MP2 MPEG Layer 2 (Audio)
MP3 MPEG Layer 3 (Audio)
MP4 MPEG Layer 4 (Video)
MPA MPEG Audio Stream, Layer I, II or III
MPGA MPEG Layer 3 (Audio Stream)
MPV2 MPEG Audio Stream, Layer II
OGG OGG Bitstream
OKT Oktalyzer Tracker Module
PTM PTM – Poly Tracker Module (Audio)
QT QuickTime Video
QT1 QuickTime Video
VOB Video Object (DVD Video)
VOC Creative Labs Sound
WM Windows Media Audio or Video
WMA Windows Media Audio
WMV Windows Media Video

That's a pretty comprehensive list of … well, of precisely the sorts of files users might want to use their 1 Terabyte networked disk drive to make available to their friends and families.

I don't think Western Digital are going to sell very many of their My Book World Edition hard disk drives.

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TB-L as Greatest Living Englishman?

December 4th, 2007

Stephen Fry nominates Tim Berners-Lee as the greatest living Englishman:

Who is the greatest living Englishman? It would be hard to argue against the merits of Tim Berners-Lee, the sole begetter and inventor of the world wide web, an organism whose initials, www, have (in some languages, including our own) three times more syllables than the phrase they’re abbreviating, which is perhaps the only flaw in Berners-Lee’s grand design.


Incidentally, that flaw… the unwieldy name and initials, www, came about as a result of the inventor’s extraordinary and entirely endearing modesty. Originally he had come up with the name The Information Mine, but he found the initials, TIM, embarrassing. No less egocentric (especially in French-speaking Switzerland, where he was working) was another thought, the Mine Of Information, so he settled on good old www. […]

Note to would-be commenters: anyone posting that Bill Gates invented the World Wide Web when he wrote Internet Explorer will have their Internet Driving License revoked with immediate effect.

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October 29th, 2007

Rejection letters for famous papers in Computer Science:

"A Method for Obtaining Digital Signatures and Public-Key Cryptosystems."

According to the (very short) introduction, this paper purports to present a practical implementation of Diffie and Hellman's public-key cryptosystem for applications in the electronic mail realm. If this is indeed the premise, the paper should be rejected both for a failure to live up to it and for its irrelevance.

I doubt that a system such as this one will ever be practical. The paper does a poor job of convincing the reader that practicality is attainable. For one thing, there is the issue of the number n used to factor the message.


Electronic mail on the Arpanet is indeed a nice gizmo, but it is unlikely it will ever be diffused outside academic circles and public laboratories—environments in which the need to maintain confidentiality is scarcely pressing. Laboratories with military contracts will never communicate through the Arpanet! Either normal people or small companies will be able to afford a VAX each, or the market for electronic mail will remain tiny. Granted, we are seeing the appearance of so-called microcomputers, such as the recently announced Apple II, but their limitations are so great that neither they nor their descendants will have the power necessary to communicate through a network.

[Via Qwghlm]

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