Thursday, December 29, 2005

RockBox Firmware Enhances iRiver Recorders

Though I don't own one of these devices, I thought it would be good to post my summary of the state of iRiver software here, since I have been covering comparable consumer recording devices. I hope you find this useful.

RockBox is open source replacement software for that which comes with various hard disk MP3 players. Up until recently this wasn't of real interest to those who want to do recording. But now they have a release ready for the iRiver recorders, which opens up the possibility of high quality recording on those devices.

The iRiver iHP-120 is a 20GB hard disk player/recorder which supports MP3, WMA and Ogg files. It has siblings in the iHP-110 and iHP-140 (no prize for guessing their capacities). It has both analogue and digital I/O rated at 96 dB SNR and 2.5V plug-in power for small condenser mics. The battery is good for 4 hours of WAV recording, and the device does a soft shutdown when the battery expires, so you don't lose your file. So far so good; this sounds like a decent replacement for a minidisc recorder.

Unfortunately the original firmware made it a less than ideal solution. Though it has a radio there was no way to record from it. Likewise there is no timer recording. WAV file recording is limited to 795MB (~75min) in a single file. Worse yet, there is no on-the-fly record level adjustment and a small recording glitch occurs about every 30 seconds, as the hard drive spins up. This adds a noise spike to the recorded signal which makes the recordings unsuitable for precise tasks.

RockBox looks to expand the capabilities and remove the limitations. It is not easy to track the changes from the website, since easy documentation is not the forte of the crew working on the project.

However at this point it seems that WAV recording at 44.1 KHz is supported from mic/line-in and the radio with full monitoring. Automatic time and byte splitting is possible to get around the file size limitation (which has been increased to 2 GB in any case).

Playback enhancements include the addition of FLAC and Wavpack CODECS, auto-crossfading of tracks, and support for gapless playback of MP3 files encoded with LAME. The peak meter has been improved and now works in dB scale.

All-on-all this looks like a great update to an already good piece of hardware. However, since these models have been superseded by the 3xx series, you may have to find units on the after-market (eg: EBay). And in answer to the next obvious question, RockBox is also developing firmware for that newer line of units.

There is a wiki page with installation instructions. There is also a helpful article on MisticRiver, the iRiver user site, which has special fora for RockBox.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dublin Night Photos



These photos were taken 21 September in Dublin. My tiny little camera takes great pictures at night. Or maybe this particular aesthetic just appeals to me.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Fifth Lot of Funny Things

Here again is a listing of twelve hilarious sites: some intentionally, some not, some the work of crackpots, some the work of journalists, with one that has gone to that big bit bucket in the sky. Plus a reminder for the young that, believe it or not, Woody Allen was once amusing.

Contains the phrase "fully indemnify little girls from possible legal action". Go!

I heart you. Go!

"He'd like it back," Mr. Bradshaw said. Go!

I knew someone would find something positive to do with New York City. Go!

Donkey killed for film "according to Swedish law". Go!

The Painstation is perfect for those who actually want to feel pain while gaming. Somehow I think this has a limited market. Need I say it was developed by Germans? (Joke! Joke! Some of my best friends, etc. etc.) Go!

It's just a meme I felt compelled to transmit. Go!

I only wish web sites were actually like this. I don't often include posts from obvious joke sites, but exceptions must sometimes be made for the good of the nation. And no, I do not know which nation. Go!

This week's missing in action URL is the verbatim transcripts of a particular stupid secondary school teacher... apparently so stupid that the reporting student could hardly keep up with their inanities. That's exactly how I remember school.

Because we were too stupid to figure this out for ourselves. Go!

Best zombie movie double bill Dawn Of The Dead and Passion Of The Christ. Could offend. Go!

Hit me Jesus, one more time. A classic, well before Mel Gibson turned his attentions to this area. Go!

Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage.
-- Woody Allen

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Review of Aerial by Kate Bush

I don't write many record reviews anymore. But sometimes I still enjoy dancing about architecture, even if Mr. Zappa disapproves. Being unsure as to whether I should embark on such a venture, I flipped a coin. It came up heads. So heads, we're dancing.

What strikes me first about Aerial is how the mainstream "critics", if that is even the correct term, have been falling over themselves to award the album plaudits. Even some old-time punks have joined this popular bandwagon, though I remember them according KT far less acclaim back in the days of her first four records. In fact, they could be damned nasty. I'm not sure why the newfound respect. Longevity? Motherhood?

You could hardly avoid Kate Bush back in the eighties. In those heady days, she would issue songs with some regularity. Not all of these releases were terribly exciting in retrospect. The sophomore release, Lionheart, was a collection of often twee second-rate tunes left over from The Kick Inside, which was a stunning debut for both the depth of song writing (from a girl as young as 13 at the time) and the vocal presentation. Orchestration and arrangements were sometimes bog-standard, but certainly not inappropriate. Attempts at a more "rock" sound were embarrassing unless you really were fond of women in brightly-coloured leg-warmers screaming to guitar posturings.

But back then a good number of listeners were indeed fond. Strange times!

Never For Ever extended Bush's palette through use of synthesiser, which seemed to suit her ever-more-arch conceptual songs. I still rather like the theatrical tunes like "Army Dreamers" and "Breathing". The moment at the end of the video for this single is chilling.

But it took until The Dreaming for me to decide she was truly an artist of standing. Actually, it took until the lead-off single, released much earlier in a different version. "Sat In Your Lap" came from a planet unlike any celestial bodies she had previously occupied. "Kate's got rhythm!" went up the cry, and what a strange rhythm it was.

I fell in love with the album. Dark, textured, less fey, with a maturity and complexity that today still sounds grand. "Night of the Swallow", "Houdini", and "Suspended in Gaffa" bring with them bone-crushing emotion and an intensity of vision that is almost unparalleled.

By the time Hounds of Love was released, everyone was tuned in. Displaying a lighter sound for the most part, it nonetheless extended her music into new areas of storytelling with the side-long Ninth Wave. And it extended the pop charts to fit the exultant sway of "Running Up That Hill", the only song I can think of that's in march time. The b-sides were brilliant, the videos were sexy (Donald Sutherland!), Kate was beautiful, and everyone could agree that they were in the presence of a musical goddess.

The Sensual World was a huge disappointment, only the title single being any good at all, in a kind of middle-of-the-road way. We had previously read that Kate respected Elton John but now her music was starting to show it. The Red Shoes was an album so dire that I did not even buy it. I mean, Prince? Come on.

So for me it's been far more than twelve years waiting for a KT album I could like. Not that I have been waiting... I've moved on. But a new record in so long makes one at least curious. So let's start with disk one, track one.

I'm not sure why "King of the Mountain" should be a single, or why she has chosen to sing it in such a small voice that mumbles the lyrics. The song builds in a nonedescript way but eventually goes nowhere, taking almost five minutes to do so. Where's the melody? Where's the hook? Why is the skanky groove so, so... white?

"How To Be Invisible" and "Joanni" try to be somewhat groovy, but the guitar/bass interplay is muted and uninspiring. These really need to be mixed like rock songs, but for that they'd need to be played that way in the first place. Then they might have some power, some impact. Though why we need more half-baked lyrics about Joan of Arc I don't know. OMD has already done that -- twice!

It's a wonderful conceit to recite the digits of "Pi" and get a song out of it, but the music verges on outright boring. The soundtrack to the film of the same name was filled with compelling electronic dissonances that put this to shame fifteen times over. The less said about the precious "Bertie" the better. Except that it plays even more like a joke in Ireland than anywhere else, thanks to it corresponding to the name of our political leader.

That leaves us with two songs on the first disc (entitled A Sea of Honey). These are based on the piano music with which Kate started her career, and are the most successful entries here. "Mrs. Bartolozzi" is about doing the washing; it's evocative, silly, and even sexy. However, can I go out on a really long limb here and say that I don't much like the vocal performance? "A Coral Room" shares the production problem of the rest of the disk, being far too smooth and drenched in the wrong reverb setting. But it's a beautiful piece that only seems less interesting in comparison to just about any decent Tori Amos song. Is that sacrilegious enough? Or is it fair to note when the pupils have outdone their teachers?

The second disk, A Sky of Honey is musically based on bird song, with some rather clever imitative vocals that turn the calls into words. If there were fewer banal lyrics, if Rolf Harris had been kept to circular breathing exercises, and if someone else had produced it, then it could have been a decent record.

I actually quite like the opening "Prelude" and "Prologue" (what, no "Intro" as well?), though how I wish Eberhard Weber had been allowed to cut loose. "An Architect's Dream" is pure banality. Everything else is "Somewhere In Between", an appropriate song title if ever there was one. This CD is all a big "somewhere" without enough place, enough definition, enough life. "Nocturn/Aerial" almost gets going, but the dynamics have been smoothed into nothingness. And together it lasts sixteen minutes, for goodness sake!

My favourite track here is "Aerial Tal" and, no, that's not just me being perverse. Kate imitating bird song is both playful, clever, and new in a way that nothing else here is. The track is over in a minute. Then it's back to the ho-hum, the humdrum, the sigh and the hum. (Only not as good as I just made it sound with that last sentence.)

In conclusion: Aerial contains uninspired playing, no decent grooves, almost zero energy level, and not one memorable melody. It inhabits a very comfortable KT-type zone that brings back fond memories of much better recordings. There is something compelling here trying to break free but it is not allowed to do so. A big blanket labelled "safe" has been draped over the proceedings.

Give me the master tapes and I think I might just be able to rescue it. (You think I am kidding, but I am not.)

I should mention that while the cover is boring, the inside gatefold photo is very nice. Washing on the line turning into birds. Lovely.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

An Introduction To Sound Art

On 9 Friday 2005 at 2pm I presented a seminar on sound art at the University of Brighton. About eight students took part; this was a perfect number, as we could sit in a circle in the smallish room, with the lights dimmed to a comfortable level, listening to a variety of sounds. Though most had a basic education in the topic, and recognised the people and books mentioned, they had generally not had the opportunity to hear works associated with those names. This was an oversight soon rectified!

Because I was present in Brighton as a poet, I focused somewhat on language-based pieces. I discussed some of my own works towards the end of the seminar, and was sure to include other Canadian artists. For fun I played some of the phonography pieces before telling people what they were listening to, so we could play a sort of guessing game.

Given that people in this visual age don't often take the time to just sit and listen, this was a rare opportunity. I thank the participants for their patience, Conall Gleeson of the School of Arts and Communication for facilitating the session, and John Davies, coordinator of The South, for inviting me to their poetry festival.

What follows is a outline of the seminar, with links to further resources.

Luigi Russolo
Italian futurist painter and composer, lived 1885-1947. In 1913 published "The Art of Noises". In the same year he performed a concert using his invented instruments, called intonarumori ("intoners" or "noise machines"). Specifically, he had arrayed 3 buzzers, 2 gurglers, 2 bursters, 1 shatterer, 1 thunderer, 1 shriller, 3 whistlers, 1 snorter, and 2 rustlers. Unfortunately, none of these survived WWII. Despite upsetting many listeners with his avant-garde stance, he was also admired by such composers as Stravinsky and Ravel. Here follows an excerpt from "The Art of Noises", available in full as a PDF at the absolutely fabulous UbuWeb.

[N]ature is normally silent, except for storms, hurricanes, avalanches, cascades and some exceptional telluric movements. This is why man was thoroughly amazed by the first sounds he obtained out of a hole in reeds or a stretched string....

First of all, musical art looked for the soft and limpid purity of sound. Then it amalgamated different sounds, intent upon caressing the ear with suave harmonies. Nowadays musical art aims at the shrillest, strangest and most dissonant amalgams of sound. Thus we are approaching noise-sound. This revolution of music is paralleled by the increasing proliferation of machinery sharing in human labor. In the pounding atmosphere of great cities as well as in the formerly silent countryside, machines create today such a large number of varied noises that pure sound, with its littleness and its monotony, now fails to arouse any emotion.


Fillippo Tomasso Marinetti
Wrote the Futurist Manifesto, first published in "Le Figaro". The sound poem "La Battaglia di Adrianopoli" was, according to Russolo, written in the Bulgarian trenches. A brilliant version was recorded by Marinetti (1876-1944) in 1935. This and the following two pieces were made available in 1988 as part of Tellus magazine issue 21, "Audio By Visual Artists".

Antonio Russolo
The brother of Luigi Russolo and a Futurist composer. "Corale & Serenata" is from 1924 and illustrates a mix of traditional and non-traditional instruments.

Kurt Schwitters
Infamous Dada artist whose classic "Die Sonate in Urlauten" (1919-32) is often interpreted even by contemporary artists.

The Art of Noise
Taking their name from Russolo's book, this pop group leveraged sampling technology to create compositions influenced by everything from musique concrete to hip-hop. Their debut EP, Into Battle With The Art of Noise, appeared in September 1983 on the house record label ZTT (Zang Tumb Tumb, a phrase taken from Marinetti's poem above).

Though their faces were never seen, the original group was made up of classically trained composer and musician Anne Dudley, keyboard player J. J. Jeczalik, and producer Trevor Horn (famous at the time for prog rock group Yes). Journalist Paul Morley was considered the fourth member, though his activities were mostly limited to pillaging intellectuals for quotes to adorn the record sleeves. The excerpt from "Paranoimia" includes a dripping tap as percussion and processed voice as melodic instrument. This version from the 1985 album In Visible Silence does not include the voice of Max Headroom which propelled the single version into the charts.

You can hear some samples.

R. Murray Schafer
Born in Sarnia, Ontario in 1933, Schafer studied in Canada as well as at the Royal Schools of Music and the Royal Conservatory of Music. In 1977 he wrote the pivotal book The Tuning of the World, following on earlier pamphlets like The New Soundscape. To implement his ideas, he founded the World Soundscape Project. Schafer is an important link between the "classical" tradition and sound art.

The following quote explicates his term "schizophonia":

We have split the sound form the maker of the sound. Sounds have been torn from their natural sockets and given an amplified and independent existence. Vocal sound, for instance, is no longer tied to a hole in the head but is free to issue from anywhere in the landscape.


Glenn Gould
Canadian pianist (1932–1982) well known for his recordings of Johann Sebastian Bach and his rather eccentric behaviour. He gave up live performances in 1964, but continued to produce powerful interpretations of the repertoire. Less famous are his radio documentaries, produced through his long association with the CBC. The Solitude Trilogy (The Idea of North, The Latecomers, The Quiet in the Land) used a technique of overlapping voices executed with great attention to the natural rhythm of the sentence, tone of voice, and content. Gould called this "contrapuntal radio". An article on The Idea of North can be read while listening to some streaming audio, which unfortunately is in the nasty proprietary RealAudio format. Maybe better to check out some of his other work at UbuWeb.

John Cage
A follower of Zen Buddhism and practitioner of chance-based composition, Cage (1912-1992) is famous for the recital piece 4:33, premiered by David Tudor in 1952. Cage's book Silence is essential reading, but following its title we will say nothing more about Cage here.

Hildegard Westerkamp
Born in Germany, Westerkamp has been in Canada since the sixties and is strongly associated with the landscape of that country, due to pieces like "Beneath the Forest Floor", which recreates for our ears the old growth forests of British Columbia. She joined Schafer's World Soundscape Project, lectured at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, and was a key member of Vancouver Co-operative Radio. Her works include radiophonics, phonography, and electro-acoustic composition, combining natural sounds with people, music, poetry, etc. A variety of her recordings can be streamed from the DIFFUSION i M├ęDIA site.

Annea Lockwood
Lockwood works similarly in compositional phonography. Born in New Zealand, she has worked from the USA since 1973, primarily at Vassar College. Her piece "A Sound Map of the Hudson River" (1982) shows a particular affinity for place and environment.

Quiet American
A phonographer since a trip to Vietnam in 1998, this artist hosts an impressive site that contains the One Minute Vacations, short glimpses into other places and times. I recommend setting aside a particular time of the day and listening to one of these per diem until they are exhausted. Meditation is optional!

The next two selections are One Minute Vacations.

Albert Casais
Field recording of a peach tree swaying in the wind of Bayonne, New Jersey.

Dr. Frank Veit
Field recording of dolphins (with shrimp providing background noises) in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aqaba.

Stephen P. McGreevy
High-energy electrons are continuously entering the Van Allen radiation belts of the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth. Their traces show up in ELF/VLF radio spectrum, which corresponds to the audible range of 300 Hz to 11 kHz. Their association with the visual spectacle known as the aurora gives this phenomenon the name "auroral chorus". Stephen P. McGreevy, from California, has released several albums under this name. The example I played was recorded 24 August 1996 at 16:00 UT in Grass River Provincial Park, Manitoba, at a latitude of 54 degrees N.

escalation 372
"Deep Shelter Mentality" is a track created entirely by software synthesis, but which nonetheless bears a resemblance both to the natural recordings of the aurora and dolphins. It is taken from the 2004 limited edition release of Planet Earth Vs. The Plasma Monster, a CD which pays homage to H.G. Wells, kaiju eiga (Japanese monster movies), and the post-apocalyptic zeitgeist evident in the world since the destruction of the NYC World Trade Center.

unknown artist
A satellite transmission that could instead be a piece of musique concrete or some post-punk synth band on an off day.

Lincolnshire Poacher
This recording demonstrates the shortwave phenomenon known as a "numbers station", an endless transmission of numbers or phonetic alphabet (sometimes broken up by music or strange electronic sounds) that are presumed to be encoded transmissions from secret service agencies to their spies in the field. This is from MI5. The entire four CD Conet Project is available for download. You can read more about these oddities of the airwaves on sites like Simon Mason's.

escalation 721
"Anamnesia Part 4" is part of an unreleased project that decomposes the word "memory" into many mangled, twisted forms. In this case granular synthesis is used to cut the sound into thousands of discrete temporal units. Rather than reassemble them smoothly, the glitches are allowed to remain. Sometimes it is the space between sound that makes meaning. Want to listen?

escalation 746
"Instrument Approach" is from the 2005 project Control Tower Sound, which began as a live electro-acoustic improvisation on 5 August 2005. Subsequently, recordings were made to reproduce this performance, and these have been assembled into a (so far) unreleased CD. An important component in this project were recordings of Air Traffic Controllers. Here the spaces between the controllers' voices have been exaggerated into a drone that sounds peculiarly like the drone of the aircraft engines themselves. For more on this project, have a look at the articles in the soundscapes category.

escalation 746
"What Do They Call It, Radar?" was recorded March 1992 from a radio call-in show on the topic of life after death. The tape punch-in method of W.S. Burroughs was used in a pure fashion to create a collage beyond conscious control. "When you cut into the present, the future leaks through." Available on the limited edition 1999 CD Device for the Transmission of Electrical Energy Through Air

escalation 746
"wave, particle, falling leaves" is an installation which premiered 28 May 2005 at the Framemaker's Symposium, Limerick, Ireland. It requires two sets of independently controlled stereo speakers and a room of particular size (which is to say, fairly small). Because I did not have four audio channels available at the seminar, I presented just stereo sound (a compromise I rather regret). Again the human voice is the source material, but this time a sung female voice provides phonemes that are processed so as to play with the boundary between language and non-language, music and non-music. The piece may at first sound algorithmically generated, but is in fact improvised at the computer, enhancing the "human" and "musical" dimensions of the result.

and so on...
There are many other resources on the web. You might wish to listen to Far Afield: A Webbed Hand Compilation, check out the phonography mailing list, visit the Acoustic Ecology Institute, read the articles at The World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, or investigate The Quiet American's list of links, just for a start.
Thursday, December 01, 2005

Brighton Poetry & Book Festival

Update: There is now a full page on the festival with a picture of yours truly. The press release has been changed.

I'm off to Brighton, UK next Thursday, and will be staying 8-10 December as part the Brighton Poetry & Book Festival 2005. This is organised by John Davies (better known to some as Shedman). More info can be found on the website of The South and the press release follows. I will also be conducting a seminar on sound art at the University of Brighton on Friday.

THE SOUTH.
BAD LANGUAGE: Brighton Poetry & Book Festival 2005

Open Days @ Brighton Writers’ Centre
49 Grand Parade Brighton BN2 9QA
Monday 5 December to Friday 9 December 2005
11am-5pm

Brighton Writers’ Centre will be holding Open Days when you can come and see the building, and meet poets and writers who will be dropping by. From Thursday 8-Friday 9 you may be able to meet up with Ciaran O’Driscoll, Mark Whelan and Robin Parmar, some of the poets from Limerick who have come over especially for the festival.

You’ll be able to see examples of some of the work in progress on a project about the Centre by Interior Architecture students at the University of Brighton. You’ll also be able to take part in impromptu workshops and discussions, and see examples of work from THE SOUTH’s recent projects.

Home to THE SOUTH, QueenSpark Books, Waterloo Press, Pighog Press, Club 94, and Survivors Poetry Brighton, Brighton Writers Centre is located in the emerging Cultural Quarter of Brighton, near The Jubilee Library, The Laines, and the beach. With offices and workshop rooms, Brighton Writers’ Centre provides a focal point for writers, publishers, agents, promoters and readers in the city.


For more information contact:
John Davies
Director
THE SOUTH
Brighton Writers' Centre
49 Grand Parade
Brighton BN2 9QA
07810 272791
Literature with a new direction
Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Fourth Funny Thing List

In today's installment we have sheep, pigeons, fish, and other unfortunates. Because animals are so funny. Plus warnings about how the electrons in our water, or the planet beneath our feet, may not be rotating as we expect. So strap yourself in and go clicky clicky.

Sheep pine for absent friends and prefer happy, smiley people. Well, I always thought so. With mint sauce. Go!

Nicholas Gurewitch draws The Perry Bible Fellowship, which is deliberately funny. Go!

Rotation stoppage is now imminent. Only a handful of you -- repeat, a few -- will understand this. The Polar Shift Preparedness site adopts a strangely hostile tone. Go!

This auto-navigator recommends a trip by way of England to get around Norway. Go!

If you can't find pigeons, you may use chickens. Go!

"RAF planned kamikaze anthrax pigeon squadron." Developed by an RAF "wing commander", naturally. And exactly what is up with this pigeon tendency in today's news? Go!

The electrons in this mug take on a positive left spin. And if you believe that... Go!

The Unfortunate Animal of the Month Club is not quite as sick as it sounds. Or is it? Go!

Why God invented Flash. For dancing. Go!

Jet-powered wheelchair a surprise for mother-in-law. As well it might. Go!

The one that got away this time is an EBay auction for a signed... breast implant.

Soon they won't let fish on planes. Go!

There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?
-- Woody Allen

Monday, November 28, 2005

MicroTrack driver released

On 21 November, version 1.2.0 of the MicroTrack driver was released. The following is an excerpt from the readme file, which indicates those changes from version 1.1.5. Sheesh, with the amount I write about it, anyone would think I actually owned one of these devices. Still, I can see from the site logs people are coming here for info, and I so hate to let you all down. :-)

New Items:
- Level meters display levels when playing back files
- Level meters operate in REC PAUSE mode for easier level setting
- Audio inputs can be heard in both REC PAUSE and REC modes (analog inputs only)

New User Interface Items:
- Reboots the unit when a CompactFlash card is inserted
- Pop-up menu appears if the user tries to power off while recording
- All input controls are active during record or record pause to allow easy real-time adjustment of levels

Other Enhancements:
- Improved performance of Input and Headphone level controls when held down
- FFWD or REW no longer cause the timer to flash the time "00:00:00" when engaged
- "Record time available" in main screen counts down from the lesser of space available, or 2GB file limit
- Remaining record time is calculated accurately when recording from S/PDIF input
- Several improvements to HOLD button functionality:
- Stops phantom power from turning on and off
- Works if booted from card reader mode
- Continues to work if file was closed because of max file size or media full

This driver is still considered beta, so it to be used at your own risk, etc. etc.

At this point there are very few improvements left to make to the unit, so I will only report on dramatic news. Auto-splitting files at the 2GB limit seems to be the most significant issue remaining.
Friday, November 25, 2005

You Should Hear...

Here are a few things I'm currently listening to. I guess they are sorta reviews. Don't expect them to be new albums, just good ones.


Explosions In The Sky: The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
Lovely instrumental guitar music that reminds me of Dif Juz and Tortoise, except it's different from either of them. They've got five other albums I have not heard. They're from Texas, home also to the wonderful Midlake. Comparisons to Godspeed! You Black Emperor are idiotic. This is much less mannered and juvenile.

Sufjan Stevens: Come On Feel The Illinoise
Absolutely his best album yet, and one that enough other people have raved about that I almost feel it's pointless commenting further. I must say that there is a repetitiveness to his songs from album to album that worries me. Now that this is out I cannot listen to the last two records; they sound like distant shades of greatness. Then again, the same thing happened to Cocteau Twins for over a decade and they just got better and better until Blue Bell Knoll. But look, "Casimir Pulaski Day" makes me cry and everything else here is fantabulous. So sell his previous records and buy this one.

Ulrich Schnauss: A Strangely Isolated Place
Both his albums are lovely but live he just hid behind a laptop and played too loud. Huge romantic swelling electronic music with a retro feel and an obvious love of Sky Records.

Blue Aeroplanes: Cavaliers
Well, it's not as good as their early stuff but a darned sight more honest than the major label releases. This sounds less like the previously rambling shambling poetry dance rock'n'trad group and more like than a solo project. Maybe it isn't really any good at all. But I likes it!

Japan: Tin Drum [extended]
Their final album and my favourite, packaged together with some nice b-sides. The 12" version of "Art of Parties" is one of my favourite songs ever, but every track here is atmospheric, groovy, or sing-along-able. Dynamic fretless bass playing? Check! Cool oriental Oberheim sounds that are not cheesy? Check! Smooth Sylvian vocals? Check! Percussion all over the place? Check! Perfect production? Check! Crypto-Maoist imagery? Check-mate!

Arcade Fire: Funeral
I am almost bored of this but "Rebellion (Lies)" is godlike. So is "Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)". "Sometimes we remember bedrooms, and our parents' bedrooms, and the bedrooms of our friends." Brilliant. Canadian.

Susannah Kelly: Demo
That's my beloved. And, no, you can't have a copy. And she'll get all shy when she reads this, even though it's at the bottom of the page. :-) Sweet, honest, woman-next-door pop music with a slice of soul and a groove too. Deserves an audience.
Friday, November 25, 2005

Seven Days Photos




Here are a few photos from the Seven Days of Everything performance, which I originally wrote about on 25 September and followed up on with links to reviews on 05 October.

These photos are from 19 September. The first is a poster for the event, out on the streets of Temple Bar. The next two attempt to show some of the bricolage that was incorporated into the stage.





Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Prisoner LiteTM

This BBC article announces the return of the TV programme The Prisoner as a Sky One remake with no Patrick McGoohan, no use of the brilliant Portmeirion location, and no "arty feel", though it will take "liberties with the original". That's the sort of pun that someone with a mind and a certain insight might come up with, but here it seems to be just happenstance.

One imagines that there is no point to this venture whatsoever. Want a premise for a paranoid thriller? Come up with your own instead of stealing from the best of the past, you troupe of lazy dimwits.

Damien Timmer is to be the executive producer and Bill Gallagher the writer for eight episodes next year on Granada. "Be Seeing You?" Er, no, not this time.

For good info on the original programme, visit The Unmutual. For those of you who are too young or just terminally underinformed, The Prisoner was a bizarre sequel of sorts to Danger Man (Secret Agent Man in N. America) which ran for 17 brilliant, baffling, and completely compelling episodes on ITV from 1967. It was one of the three best television shows ever.

"The butcher with the sharpest knife has the warmest heart."

Thanks to Shay for the tip.
Saturday, November 19, 2005

"But isn't Kennedy already dead?"


Jonathan Weiss has made a feature-length film of J.G. Ballard's 1970 "condensed novel" The Atrocity Exhibition, hardly the most filmable book ever written. And now it is available on DVD in PAL format, or at least it might be as of January 2006. It's all a bit difficult to comprehend, and the web site, which demands 3.6MB of data to render a single page, certainly sets some sort of new record for lack of usability.

I would not have known about this except for receiving an email from Filmfreak Distributie in Amsterdam, apparently due to my1 article on the book, published back in 1993 as part of The Electronic Labyrinth, a study of hypertext fiction that has been used as a textbook in many courses around the world. (Yeah, there's lots about me you don't know.)

In any case, the DVD is 25 euros and contains a full-length commentary from Ballard himself, who is hip to the film-maker's interpretation. Eventually I'll get a copy and let you know what I think. As a massive Ballard fan for a quarter of a century you know I'll be in full critical mode!

And sometime I'll tell you the story of how my friend Chris and I got the film of Crash made.

1 I say "my" because I've effectively forgotten which parts were written by Christopher Keep and which by myself. It's a nice feeling.
Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Funniest Things You Will Ever Read (Third Sitting)

Welcome to another dozen joys from sites that contain stupid newspaper articles, bad typos, crackpot ideas, religious mania, and other silliness. There will also be a Woody Allen quotation, though why, I do not know. And yes, I still have more, so stay tuned.

"Never again will you have to choose between having sushi or having a USB memory drive." But what, no wasabi? Go!

An amusing and useful timepiece. Go!

Man whose lover got pregnant using semen obtained through oral sex can sue for emotional distress — but not theft. Go!

Sid is no longer a cookie monster? All joy is being sucked from children's entertainment. Go!

Yahoo is using us to predict the market. Think about this one carefuly and realise that someone somewhere is getting rich off us idiots. Go!

Beer and seaweed sustain missing boater. Personally I prefer saki with my seaweed, but this guy was hardly in a position to be picky. Go!

Celebrity sheep meets NZ leader. Go!

Man signaled turns during chase. Idiot. Go!

The Exorcist in 30 seconds, re-enacted by bunnies. Certainly saves time at the video store. Go!

Dog ends gunman's plan for shooting rampage. This link summarises the original at The Globe and Mail, for which you will have to pay. Go!

Them Mac users sure is smart. Go!

Technical review of juvenile felis catus. An old joke but still a good one. Go!

Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.
-- Woody Allen

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

World Premiere Of Tactile Surface


I will be appearing live this Friday 11 November at 8pm with John Galvin in our world premiere as Tactile Surface. We will be performing "Tectonic Plate I", an improvisation for guitar, cigarette lighter, and controlled amplification.

This is part of the first Mamuska night of the season, held for the first time at Daghdha's new headquarters, the former Church of St. John's of the Cross in St. John's Square, Limerick. A Mamuska is an unusual evening of experimentation and creativity, incorporating film, dance, performance art, theatre, music, and more. The friendly atmosphere has always brought out the best in people, both performers and audience, and this week should be no exception.

Anything can happen and probably will. Admission is free, so there is no possible excuse for your absence if you are on this continent or within light-speed transport distance.

Daghdha Dance Company is Ireland's leading contemporary dance company. Davide Terlingo is the coordinator of Mamuska. Thanks to all for their support.
Monday, November 07, 2005

The Funniest Things You Will Ever Read (Part The Second)

These dozen items are not necessarily jokes, but are very funny if you look at them the right way. Those that aren't funny are at least revealing of something of human nature. If they are neither funny nor revealing then there is something wrong with a) my selection techniques, or b) your brain. More to come!

A rabbit called "Moon Cake" who balances food on its head. Go!

No, I do not want to know what "average finished hair meal" means. But remember: "You are what you eat read on the internet." Go!

"You could say the Rapture index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity, but I think it would be better if you viewed it as prophetic speedometer." Well, that is so much clearer, thank you. Must say I bust a gut thinking that the French no vote on the EU constitution has downgraded the chance likelihood of The Antichrist appearing. Go!

"Virtual agents don't complain when they revisit the same sites and don't have to be paid like real people hiking the mountains." Hold on a minute... people hiking mountains get paid? Go!

Grotesque and horrid things kids do to each other. This huge site has spawned an offensive, peurile, and hilarious book. Go!

This is what happens when a bored Christian lego-loving priest gets his own web site. Go!

Dogs in elk. Really. No sort of a joke but amusing if you are a dog lover. Or an elk lover, I suppose. Go!

"Fat, green, musty-smelling nocturnal parrots, which cannot fly but can climb tall trees." Well, what frickin' good are they then? Go!

"There are many advantages to getting an autopsy." Maybe so, but I think I'll wait just a little bit longer. Complete with "graphics". Go!

Build your own 1,500,000 Volt Tesla Coil. Just don't blame me if you die. And you will. Die I mean. Not a joke. Go!

"State constitution may protect Bigfoot." This was in Nebraska. Unfortunately the page has vanished.

Margaret's Honey. This is beyond my understanding, but then again, I'm on dial-up. Go!

Sex without love is an empty gesture. But as empty gestures go, it is one of the best.
-- Woody Allen "Love and Death"

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Two Photos From August


A friend of mine noticed this perspective but I managed to take the shot. :-) Actually it took a little digital help in order to capture more detail. This was part of an intriguing multi-lingual Scrabble game on 21 August 2005. Anyone whose native language was not English was allowed to use the dictionary: we had Japanese, Italian, and German. I sure hope these were my tiles -- otherwise I was cheating!


The view on 13 August 2005 from (a different) friend's room out over some lovely oil storage drums. These are still active and should they ever blow, they will take a large community of student dwellings with them. It's a little unsettling. The building in the background to the left has the most intriguing geometry; I was compelled to sketch it and I'm not much of a visual artist.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Javascript Oblique Strategies

A little while back I posted my Python programme for generating random Oblique Strategies. Well, for fun I thought I'd whip up a quick Javascript implementation for this site.

Check out the sidebar. Every time a page loads you get a new strategy. This is likely far too many: I recommend one a day unless you are being very very creative.

Otherwise you may just explode.

This version uses only my own strategies, not those of Brian Eno. I thought that would be more personal. :-)
Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Javascript Implementation Of Recent Comments

In my search for ways to make the information on this site more timely and accessable, I came across the so-called Farrago Recent Comments Hack. It does some pseudo-magical stuff with Blogger tags, but I thought I could go one better by encapsulating the code in a proper class, providing comments, and enhancing the code for readability. Plus I made it work with my chosen date format and have made it easier for all of you to do the same.

Once you have read how the original works, follow these steps to use my enhanced version. I do assume you know something about what you are doing here. This is not for those unfamiliar with their template.

1. The following is the Javascript which does the processing. There are two ways of using it.

a) The preferred way is to save it as its own text file, with a name like "rc.js" and then upload it somewhere you have space on the web. Link to it from the header of your template with a line like: <script type="text/javascript" src="http://www.x.com/rc.js"></script>

b) If you don't have external storage, put this code in the header of your template, wrapped in script tags. To be explicit, this line goes first: <script type="text/javascript" language="JavaScript1.2">, then the code below, then finally this line: </script>.

OK, here's the code.

/*
Blogger Recent Comments
v1.05

Based on the Farrago Recent Comments Hack v1.03
boggerhacks.blogspot.com
(c) 2004 Ebenezer Orthodoxy

Statement: I would GPL the code if the original author would.
Mods by: Robin Parmar
Visit: noisetheatre.blogspot.com
*/

// our class
function RecentComments() {
// options to change
this.displayAmount = 10;
this.displayTemplate = '<li>[name]:<br/>[title]</li>';
this.displayPre = '<ul>';
this.displayPost = '</ul>';
this.displayLink = true;

// properties
this.comments = new Array();
this.title = '';
this.itemurl = '';

// methods
this.SetTemplate= rcSetTemplate;
this.SetAmount = rcSetAmount;
this.SetLink = rcSetLink;
this.SetPrePost = rcSetPrePost;

this.SetTitle = rcSetTitle;
this.SetUrl = rcSetUrl;

this.SortDate = rcSortDate;
this.AddComment= rcAddComment;
this.Display = rcDisplay;

// this line uses my date converter method
this.DateConvert = rcDateConvert;

// comment out the previous line and uncomment the
// next line to use original date format
// this.DateConvert = rcDateConvertDefault;

// or write your own and insert it
}

// simple property setters: these are used by process
function rcSetTitle(x) {
this.title = document.getElementById(x).innerHTML;
}
function rcSetUrl(x) {
this.itemurl = x;
}

// these are used by user to customise
function rcSetTemplate(x) {
this.displayTemplate = x;
}
function rcSetAmount(x) {
this.displayAmount = x;
}
function rcSetLink(x) {
if (x==0) {
this.displayLink = false;
} else {
this.displayLink = true;
}
}
function rcSetPrePost(x, y) {
this.displayPre = x;
this.displayPost = y;
}

// date format converter
// insert your own here depending on the format you use for comment dates
// this one converts from:
// 01 November, 2005 16:35
// to:
// 11/01/2005 16:35:00
function rcDateConvert(dt) {
var s = dt.split(' ');
var d = s[0];
var m = s[1];
var y = s[2];
var t = s[3];

var MonthHash = new Array();
MonthHash['January'] = '01';
MonthHash['February'] = '02';
MonthHash['March'] = '03';
MonthHash['April'] = '04';
MonthHash['May'] = '05';
MonthHash['June'] = '06';
MonthHash['July'] = '07';
MonthHash['August'] = '08';
MonthHash['September']= '09';
MonthHash['October'] = '10';
MonthHash['November'] = '11';
MonthHash['December'] = '12';

// trim off comma
m = m.substring(0, m.length-1);

return MonthHash[m] + '/' + d + '/' + y + ' ' + t + ':00';
}

// default converter: does nothing
// use if your comment date format is:
// mm/dd/yyyy hh:mm:ss
function rcDateConvertDefault(dt) {
return dt;
}

// given a date string this returns a sorted representation
function rcSortDate(strDate) {
strDate = this.DateConvert(strDate)

var d = new Date(strDate);

var day = '' + d.getDate();
if (day.length==1) {
day = '0' + day;
}
var month = '' + (d.getMonth()+1);
if (month.length==1) {
month = '0' + month;
}
var hour = '' + d.getHours();
if (hour.length==1) {
hour = '0' + hour;
}
var min = '' + d.getMinutes();
if (min.length==1) {
min = '0' + min;
}
var sec = '' + d.getSeconds();
if (sec.length==1) {
sec = '0' + sec;
}
var sortDate = '' + d.getFullYear() + month + day + hour + min + sec;
return sortDate;
}

// adds to global comments array
function rcAddComment(title, url, id, a, datestamp) {
var author = a;
var expt = '';
var st = '';

// grab content of our hidden layer containing all items
var html = document.getElementById('comm' + id).innerHTML;

// strip out whitespace
while (html.indexOf("\n") > -1) {
html = html.replace("\n", "");
}
while (html.indexOf(" />") > -1) {
html = html.replace(" />", "/>");
}
while (html.indexOf(" <a/>") > -1) {
html = html.replace(" <a/>", "<a/>");
}

var htmll = html.toLowerCase();
var pos1 = htmll.lastIndexOf('<br><a></a>posted by');
var pos2 = htmll.lastIndexOf('<br><a></a><a></a>');
var pos3 = htmll.lastIndexOf('<br/><a/><a/>');
var pos4 = htmll.lastIndexOf('<br/><a></a><a></a>');
var aoffset = pos1 + 6;

if (pos3 > -1) {
pos2 = pos3;
}
if (pos4 > -1) {
pos2 = pos4;
}
if (pos2 > -1) {
pos1 = pos2;
aoffset = htmll.lastIndexOf('<a><b> </b></a>');
if (aoffset == -1) {
aoffset = htmll.lastIndexOf('<a><b></b></a>') - 1;
}
}

if (pos1 > -1) {
author = html.substr(aoffset+15, html.length-1);
expt = html.substr(0, pos1-4);
} else {
expt = html;
}
expt = expt.replace(/(<([^>]+)>)/ig, "");

if (expt.length > 50) {
expt = expt.substr(0, 50);
if (expt.lastIndexOf(' ') > -1) {
expt = expt.substr(0, expt.lastIndexOf(' '));
}
expt += '...';
}
expt = expt.replace('"', "\"");
expt = expt.replace("'", "\'");

author = author.replace("<A ", "<a ");
if (!this.displayLink) {
author = author.replace(/(<([^>]+)>)/ig, "");
}

// build a template string of HTML
st = this.displayTemplate.replace('[name]', author);
st = st.replace('[title]', '<a title="' + expt + '" href="' + url + '#c' + id + '">' + title + '</a>');

// prefix with date for sorting purposes
st = this.SortDate(datestamp) + st;

// accumulate on our array
this.comments.push(st);
}

function rcDisplay() {
// most recent comments first
this.comments.sort();
this.comments.reverse();

if (this.displayPre.length >0) {
document.write(this.displayPre);
}

for (i=0; i<10 && i < this.comments.length && i < this.displayAmount; i++) {
var s = this.comments[i];

// strips off date prefix
s = s.substr(14, s.length-1);
document.write(s);
}

if (this.displayPost.length >0) {
document.write(this.displayPost);
}
}


2. Depending on the comment date format you use, you may need to provide your own conversion method. This class works with the original Farrago format and my format as well. If you know a bit of Javascript it's pretty easy to extend, following the code example here.

3. Edit your template to put the following in the sidebar where you'd like the comments to appear. Your formatting may be different, but it'll be pretty darned similar. This whole block is wrapped in tags to ensure it only appears on the main page, because it produces an empty list on item pages and a misleading list on archive pages.


<!-- START RecentComments 1.05 -->
<MainPage>
<h2>recent comments</h2>
<script type="text/javascript" language="JavaScript1.2">
var rc = new RecentComments();
rc.SetTemplate('[name]: [title]<br/>');
rc.SetPrePost('', '');
rc.SetLink(0);
rc.SetAmount(5);
</script>
<Blogger>
<span id="comm<$BlogItemNumber$>" style="visibility:hidden; position:absolute;">
<BlogItemTitle><$BlogItemTitle$></BlogItemTitle>
</span>
<script type="text/javascript" language="JavaScript1.2">
rc.SetTitle('comm<$BlogItemNumber$>');
rc.SetUrl('<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>');
</script>
<BlogItemCommentsEnabled><BlogItemComments>
<span id="comm<$BlogCommentNumber$>" style="visibility:hidden; position:absolute;">
<$BlogCommentBody$>
</span>
<script type="text/javascript" language="JavaScript1.2">
rc.AddComment(rc.title, rc.itemurl, '<$BlogCommentNumber$>', '<$BlogCommentAuthor$>', '<$BlogCommentDateTime$>');
</script>
</BlogItemComments></BlogItemCommentsEnabled>
</Blogger>
<script type="text/javascript" language="JavaScript1.2">
rc.Display();
</script>
</MainPage>
<!-- END RecentComments 1.05 -->


4. This example shows how the various options can be set from directly in your template code, so that you do not need to directly edit the Javascript file. There are four methods called in the first script block above. But you may be just as happy with the defaults.

rc.SetTemplate() sets the template string for each entry in the comment list. The placeholder "[name]" will get filled by the author's name, and "[title]" with the title of the post. The default is <li>[name]:<br/>[title]</li> which sets up each comment as an HTML list item.

rc.SetPrePost() takes two string parameters containing the HTML you want to be written before and after the comment list. The default is <ul> and </ul>, again for a simple list implementation.

rc.SetLink() takes the number "0" to turn off author links. Otherwise, by default, the author's name will link to their page.

rc.SetAmount() takes a number up to 10 indicating how many comments to display, 10 being the default.

So, in the example above we have changed the default code from an HTML list to a simple sequence of lines seperated by line breaks. We have turned off name linking, and set the maximum number of comments to 5.

5.
Following the Javascript, the tag section performs some magic. Remember that everything within a Blogger tags gets repeated for each of your posts. It is a loop construct. The first invisible span prints out the item (that is to say, the article) title with its own special ID.

The Javascript following this sets the title referencing that ID, and sets the URL using the appropriate blog tag.

Then we use a similar trick to grab the comment info. Blog tags loop over each comment, set in its own invisible span. The following Javascript associates the title and URL we already set with further details from the comment.

The final section, outside the Blogger tags, simply calls a method to display the results.

Note: I do not recommend you change any of the code in this section.

6. Once you have saved your template with these changes, and republished the site, you should have a lovely list of the most recent comments made to your blog. Note that mousing over the title reveals the first characters of the comment.

All is not perfect however. I have discovered that some comments seem to be ignored by this list, presumably because they are for articles too old to be on your main page. But altering the tags to access these would result in every article in your entire blog being included in invisible spans on your home page. The resulting slowdown is likely not worth it.

Think of this as "recent comments on recent articles" and you have the right idea!

Finally
Post any ideas for enhancements here. My regards to the original author, who did a great job of hacking Blogger code. My contribution is only to make this more understandable.

Addendum: 2006.03.17
I have made the explanation in section 4 a bit more explicit and added in the complete text of sections 5 and 6.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Two Pictures: Limerick


I've noticed this site has been rather graphics-free for a while. People like pictures. To remedy this obvious disparity, here are a couple of similar photos taken 5 September 2005.


Monday, October 31, 2005

Quick Article Editing

My previous article explains how to set up Article Categories The Easy Way. This requires some repetitive editing of articles. Here's an easy way of speeding up the process.

I am sure that any time you've needed to go back and edit an existing article it's been a bit of a pain. You must go to the Posting tab of Blogger, choose the link "Edit posts", wait for a list of all your articles to render, and then scroll down to find the right one. For a large site this is tedious, especially if you need to edit a given page often. And if you're going to follow my method for article categories you do in fact have this need.

The trick is to notice that when you edit an article, there is a specific URL that corresponds to that edit page. It will look something like this: www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=12&postID=34 where "12" is a unique number corresponding to your blog and "34" is the unique ID of the article itself.

All you need to do is make a list of all of these URLs, together with a description of the article. And what's the best way to do that? Why, create your own little HTML page. That way you can launch an edit window with a single click.



While you are at it, you can put in links to the finished pages, to make it easy to check your work. Put in links to your home page, and your main Blogger login too. The screen shot shows what this looks like for me... couldn't be easier.

Creating local HTML files can be an amazing time-saving device. I have a default web page that loads in my browser which contains dozens of links to all the places I'm likely to need to go. It's more organised than any bookmark system.

I hope you enjoy this tip, obvious though it may be. If you do, leave a friendly comment!
Monday, October 31, 2005

Article Categories The Easy Way

I have been asked by John, in a comment to the article Articles Are Now Categorised, how I actually do this. Here the deep dark secrets are revealed!

OK, there are no secrets; I categorise the simple way... manually! I realise that the whole point of blog software is to automate simple tasks, but I am used to manually creating web sites and so do not shirk from a little heavy lifting. In this case it's only one extra step for each article.

To set up the system I first decided on categories, which may in fact have been the most difficult part of the process. I created entries for each category, and back-dated the creation times so the articles became lost in the bowels of the archives. Then I put links to them in my sidebar, so the category pages are easy to access. So far, so good.

Every time I add an article I must now also edit the appropriate category page and add a link to it. This is not too much work, IMO. Sometimes I wait and do several at once, since categorising brand new articles, those people can easily read on the opening page, is not a high priority.

Blogger should definitely have an automated way of dealing with this. It's trivial to implement so I don't understand why it hasn't been done.

However, the manual method has certain advantages. There is full control over how you link to the categories, full control over their contents and formatting, and it's easy to put an article in more than one category if you wish.

I am not keen of categorising using hacks that depend on outside resources, though if you want to check that out, some techniques are available over on FreshBlog.

Another technique that makes this method easy is explained in the next article, Quick Article Editing. (This is getting nicely entangled.)
Sunday, October 30, 2005

Small Style Update / Blogger Hacks

A short while ago I updated the site styles so that the number of comments for each article are shown on the main page. This will help if you revisit the site and want to seee if there is more to read for a specific article page. Unfortunately Blogger does not give you a way to subscribe to this info, which would naturally be the best solution.

While researching a workaround to this, I came across the FreshBlog page on hacks you can use to change the functionality of Blogger. I hope you find it useful.
Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Funniest Things You Will Ever Read -- Part One

I am sorry to say I found these things really funny. Don't read them all at once or you will die. And that's not my fault. Also, some may be offensive, but life is like that. I have collected these up over many months, even years. Unfortunately I had to delete a few stale links, so you will never read about, for example, the human soup. Here is the first dozen. There are lots more, so subscribe to this blog and die laughing!

"Watching television can cause demon possession in infants, scientist claims." Just keep hitting refresh for more goodness. Go!

I am sorry to have to inflict these rodents on you. Really. Go!

I like badgers as much as the next guy. Actually I like badgers far more than the next guy. Which is obviously better for you, if you happen to be standing next to that next guy. This one is quite famous. Go!

A bomb squad robot describes the institution of marriage as it relates to pre-historic social groups and genetic meme propagation. This will offend. Go!

The Coca-Cola Nazi advert challenge. Not actually any sort of a joke. Go!

Damn strange way to advertise a sandwich. But then again, rodents, chickens and pigeons seem to be inately compelling, as many of these links show. Go!

Read through to the last line. So true. Go!

How to protect yourself from terrorists, according to MI5: "Cut back dense shrubs." This article disappeared from The Independent, but I found it again. Go!

More hamsters. This time they are actually creating music. Go!

Yes, but is it a great place to work? You really must read all of this, small print included. Go!

"Looking for rear love, marriage". Unfortunately, after about one year, that person has finally removed their page from Yahoo Personals, thus saving themselves further infamy, a life of ridicule, and -- just possibly -- a very exciting marriage.

The Bristol University Safety Office will provide you with a copy of the film "I Think I Need To Use An Isotope". Can't wait to meet their cheerleaders. I also wonder how a film entitled "Apaches" is about "farm safety, directed at children". Go!

"Love is the answer. But while you're waiting for the answer, sex brings up some pretty good questions."
-- Woody Allen

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Six Promises To A Future Lover

I read this poem at the Cuisle International Poetry Festival Slam last Saturday, where it did about as well as I thought, eg: not good enough to get into the finals. I am happy with the way it plays with time and tenses, something I'm trying to do more lately. In real life, I mean.

I suppose I should have let you all know about the Festival ahead of time, but I was just too busy enjoying a wonderful line-up of guests, partying well into the night, dancing salsa, and maybe even falling in love. Besides, even if I'd told, you weren't about to come all the way to Limerick for some poetry were you? Now admit it!

[Actually, I've removed this poem so it is not considered "published". I have high hopes for it!]
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Ten Sound & Music Sites You Have Never Heard Of

There are incredible collections of audio out there which don't require flirting with spyware-infiltrated clients or illegal downloads. Here are just some which I enjoy, plus a smattering of music articles, and a few other things thrown in for interest. There's an emphasis on the odd. As you would expect.

UbuWeb was gone but now it's back. This vast collection of strange spoken word, audio art, sound poetry, and written nonsense is completely invaluable.

The Live Music Archive is the premier place to share legally recorded live music. It also has lots of historical and spoken-word recordings. For example, there are conference proceedings, 300 recordings from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, and historical artifacts from as long ago as 1890.

Top 10 Longest Waits For A Decent Album is one of the funniest musical articles you will ever read. There are others nearby as well at this Wire-related (always a good sign) site.

Alarm Will Sound have done a cover version of Aphex Twin songs by playing all of the parts on classical instruments. The loons.

disquiet contains "reflections on ambient/electronic music, and interviews with the people who make it" and lots of links to free downloads as well.

Mashups are strange not-entirely-illegal collisions of popular songs. Examples from dINbOT and bittersoundfoundation have made it into my mixes.

You may want to hear an interview with Brian Eno about his mostly disappointing recent album Another Day on Earth. Hmmm... why is Brian Eno now more interesting than his music? This is a podcast1 by the way.

Joey Honey is an odd and perhaps idiotic person who has some strange electro tunes scattered around his site.

Ampersand Etc. contains illegible reviews of music that is mostly kinda industrial.

Newcomers will find other suggestions in the article Field Recording Resources.

1 What is a podcast? A podcast is what idiots call an audio file that likely contains a mediocre collection of music mixed with a college-radio-bad announcer -- some muttering nutter recorded with a came-with-the-computer microphone plugged directly into their SoundBlitzer sound card. It's called "pod" because it's made for the sort of Invasion of the Body Snatcher pod people who buy iPods and then set up class action lawsuits because the surface scratches. It's called "cast" because it's like a radio broadcast, except that it's not radio and not broadcast, so that it kind of, um, well, isn't like a radio broadcast at all. OK, rant over. [Geez, I just realised I never rant on this site. What's a blog for anyway?]
Wednesday, October 19, 2005

retrograde

here before
here before
here before
you here before
you here before
noticed you here before
noticed you here before
haven't noticed you here before
haven't noticed you here before
haven't noticed you here
haven't noticed you here
we haven't noticed you here
we haven't noticed you here
we haven't noticed you
we haven't noticed you
think we haven't noticed you
think we haven't noticed you
think we haven't noticed you
think we haven't noticed
think we haven't noticed
don't think we haven't noticed
don't think we haven't noticed
i don't think we haven't noticed
i don't think we haven't noticed
i don't think we haven't
i don't think we haven't
i don't think we haven't
i don't think we
i don't think we
know i don't think we
know i don't think we
know i don't think we
you know i don't think we
you know i don't think we
you know i don't think
you know i don't think
you know i don't
you know i don't
you know
you know
you know
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Oh God! It's Kate Bush


Well, now truly, what am I going to do about Kate Bush? It is true that she haunts me. It is true that she is the very image of beauty in womanhood that I strive to possess (knowing that possession is pointless). It is true that I once gave up having dinner with her in order to pass a university degree. It is true that I once listened to her then-new single1 with the love of my life and we cried and cried.

It is true I was at her first ever North-American convention. It is true that I have a small fortune of merchandise in her name. It is true that when children we lived rather close together. It is true that she once signed a record to me, though I am sure she would not remember. It is true I did a lot to promote her on radio in Canada back "in the day". And it is true that I could not bring myself to buy her last album, so dire it was.

Well, a new album is out. A double. Called Aerial (good name, steals one of mine.) And she produced it herself so it likely has all the problems of her last two self-produced efforts. Why did she not get me to produce it?

Oh yeah, I am nobody; she is everything. Thanks for reminding me.

Fixated on motherhood, birdsongs, and Elvis, this will be a stinker. But I think I may cry anyway. Once more. For old-time's sake. Bring on November 8.

This article created under the "full-disclosure" amendment of 1963. Any embarrassment caused is purely personal.

1For reference, the song was the b-side "Under the Ivy".

Friday, October 14, 2005

Ice Code 2017

I don't want this blog to turn into a continuous sequence of tech posts, so I am going to insert another poem. This is the first overt piece of science-fiction I've written in a long time. I have to thank Arcade Fire for inspiration, indirect though it may be.

Ice Code 2017

That final June in Ottawa
Before the evacuation
I witnessed a tundra storm
Sheets of ice vertical and thick
Descended from the sky
As massive as those segments of the north polar cap
That had melted, split off from the
Once-solid ice floes
Metre-thick snow, dense as concrete
Had floated out to sea
Dismembered itself as vapour
And finally come back to earth again
Thousands of miles away
To say “hello” in silver-blue fury

It took us three days to dig our way out
Cars broken; bodies frozen in the lobby
Of Chateau Laurier
The supermarkets long closed and empty
Shelves cleared, cans hoarded, police in the streets
Parliamentary panic in the crumpled shadow
Of the husk of the Peace Tower
And no-one on the canal

I saw the black smoke
From the ruins of the Rideau Centre
And found you held like stone
On the icebound floor of the shopping arcade
Neon orange emergency lights
Flashing their code across rigid white hair
Small knives of glass covered in blood crystal
Where they had pierced your throat
From the inside out
Now melting on the tile
Under rescue crew spotlights

Your eyes were blue, still, and clear
Locked solid like water running deep
Under that sheet river ice we once used to skate
Your breath frozen in one last plea
A global warning it's now too late
To hear
Friday, October 14, 2005

Sony's New Portable Recorder

News flash! At the AES show in New York Sony has unveiled a new digital recorder that looks like something out of a stangely retro Star Trek.

The PCM-D1 records 24 bit / 96KHz PCM audio onto built-in 4GB flash memory or one of Sony's proprietary Memory Stick Pro cards. But strangely it's got odd analog level meters (which look weakest just where you need them most: at the top of the range) and a built-in pair of condenser microphones that make the device look like some sort of tricorder. Sony says these are in X-Y configuration but the mic caps are not coincident.

Another bizarre choice is a high pass filter at 200Hz. What use is that?

It is to be launched at the end of the year and costs US$2000. Ouch!
Friday, October 14, 2005

Apple Compatible MD

Earlier this year Sony finally made a minidisc product with Apple compatibility, for the first time ever. But you may have missed it since it is marketed by the business division, which once used to be Sony Professional. The MZ-M100 MD recorder is simply a rejigged MZ-RH10, which I reviewed recently. This package adds a microphone and Mac upload software, and is aimed squarely at the recording market.

There is also a less-expensive unit MZ-M10 which is a rebranded MZ-RH910. Since the list price of this unit is $110 cheaper ($440 versus $330), you might wonder what you are giving up. Very little. It has a 5 line LCD display instead of the 6 line "Organic Electroluminescence" display, but is .2oz lighter and rated for 1h more battery life.

These units work identically to their brethren on a Windows box. For Apple they can upload recordings made on a Hi-MD disc in PCM format only, not any compressed format. Furthermore, only recordings made through the mic/line input, not the optical input, will upload. As a final limitation, you cannot download to the units on the Apple.

Here is a review of the unit that has some further comments.

The Mac software will not work on the older model MD, even though they are identical in hardware. Sony has stuck some new encryption code in the files themselves to prevent this from happening, a brain-dead move. On my last project it would have been useful to upload to a Powerbook from my MZ-RH10, but no go!
Friday, October 07, 2005

MicroTrack vs. MiniDisc Chart

Here is a summary of the information gathered and presented in my other articles on these recording device. Please let me know about any problems, so I can correct them.

And no, I do not know why this chart appears about three miles down the page. Not my fault!




















































































































































Comparison of MZ-RH10 MD and M-Audio MicroTrack

MinidiscMicroTrack
physical
size80 x 84 x 19 mm61 x 110 x 29 mm
volume128 cm3195 cm3
weight147g147g
display5 line "organic EL"5 line (?) LCD
package includesmanual, CD-ROM, carrying bag, headphones, USB cable, universal charger, dry cell case, remote, recharge standmanual, CD-ROM, carrying bag, headphones, USB cable, charger, 64 MB CF card, stereo mic
retail price$299$369
media
media typeminidiscCF or microdrive
price per GBUS$ 7US$ 70
maximum file size1GB2GB
power
battery typeNiMH gumstickLithium-Ion
battery swappable?yesno
stated battery life32 h8 h without phantom
record while charging?noyes?
computer
interfaceUSB 2.0USB 2.0
music file transferproprietary softwaremass storage device
OS compatibilityWindowsWindows 2000 or XP, Mac OS X 10.3.9
audio
stated recording specs16-bit 44.1kHz24-bit 96kHz
actual recording resolution16-bit16-bit
mic input1/8" stereo1/4" TRS
mic power5V plug-in30V phantom (not to spec)
digital input16-bit proprietary24-bit S/PDIF coax
audio output1/8" stereo1/8" stereo + RCA
file typesMP3, WAV, ATRAC, WMAMP3, WAV

Friday, October 07, 2005

MicroTrack Update

This is a follow-up to my article as I continue to track reviews, user comments, and tests on this much-anticipated audio recorder.

TapersSection has voluminous information coming in from users of this device. I will summarise here for those without the interest in reading dozens of pages, or who do not wish to register. I am also following threads on rec.audio.pro, rec.arts.movies.production.sound, other newsgroups, and web boards.

Good news is that some of the bugs discovered thus far are being fixed in firmware revision 1.5, which should be out by 8 October.

This will leave the following limitations:
• 2GB file limit
• no input monitor mode
• cannot record in mono
• dynamic range limited to about 16-bit
• only 30V phantom power (instead of 48V per the spec)

The first two of these are due for fixes in the future. The last two are design limitations.

An official Neumann rep has commented about the phantom power issue.

If you want to read more, I've got a direct link to the user manual.

Sample audio files are linked to from the following newsgroup post: one, two, three.

Another note: battery life is reduced considerably when using microdrives, so it's better to stick to regular flash CF cards. They are also more reliable.

When all is said and done, this is a decent recorder: tiny, no moving parts, reasonable ergonomics, and features. But although it can record a 24 bit audio stream it should be seen as no more than a 16 bit recorder in terms of audio quality. And though it has "phantom power" the fact it will not work to spec and puts extra demands on the battery negates the practical use of a range of condenser mics without an external phantom source.

It basically fits in the same niche as a Hi-MD recorder.
Thursday, October 06, 2005

Review of Sony MZ-RH10 MD Recorder

Some months ago I was looking around for an affordable portable audio recorder. After my usual extensive research I came back to Sony's MD technology, which has been updated now to Hi-MD, a high-density format with significant benefits. Here follows a detailed review of the unit I purchased, the MZ-RH10.

Purchasing and Package Contents

After doing diligent research I quickly realised that buying from a store here in Ireland is pointless. Staff know nothing about what they are selling; there is no service; prices are sky-high. Not to mention that no-one even carries the latest models.

Researching on the net I realised that the MZ-RH10 model was right for me. I found that it was easily obtainable directly from Japan.

There are some distinct advantages to buying the Japanese model:
• a choice of colours (black, silver, blue, orange) instead of just black
• a charging stand (in matching colour)
• a backlit LCD remote instead of one sans screen, coloured as well.
• a universal charger for international operations
• a higher capacity battery (1350mAh)
• units in Europe have crippled EQ and output amp since there is some daft EU law saying how loud headphone outputs can be.

After comparing prices and service, I went with a Japanese EBay retailer. The experience has been nothing but a joy from start to finish. So here is an endorsement: check out "sunnylife_jp".

I bought at a fixed price of US$299. The additional shipping charge of $40 included EMS courier internationally and local parcel service here in Ireland. This is a distinct advantage in my eyes. A web tracking page kept me in the know, and the retailer was always prompt in their email replies to my queries.

Further, I was able to simultaneously purchase Hi-MD 1GB disks at $8 per, with no additional shipping charge. I splurged and got ten, since this is about a 40% savings over what the high street store wants.

It doesn't end there, though, because included was a prong modifier for the AC adaptor. An English copy of SonicStage 3.0 was thrown in, so I could get up and running immediately. I had previously downloaded the operating manual in English as a PDF, so I knew the exact steps to take to change the MDs interface to English.

The only disadvantage I can see in buying from Japan is not having a local warranty. But I have found that they are so very rarely useful for consumer devices, which seem to break exactly one day after the warranty expires. :-)

A few more notes on the package contents. A dry cell add-on for the player was included, as were the usual crap headphones. These are actually not so completely garbaceous (new word) as others, but have the shortest cord known to man. The written manual is in Japanese (hence the download). A fine selection of magnetic cord shield thingies are added, for reasons likely related to regulatory agencies. Oh yeah, you get a soft grey Sony bag too.

One thing you do not get is a disk! The European packages include one, so this is an odd omission.

The front of the box is in English and shows a black unit. But little coloured stickers on the sides of the box say "orange" (in my case). Sure enough, opening the box finds an orangey gold silvery thing, so all is well.


Me Being Helpful

For reference, here is where you get the English manual.

To get your Japanese unit displaying English:
1. press the MENU button until the menu is displayed
2. rock up once to get to Option (suitcase icon) and click
3. rock up once to get to Language and click
4. select English

Please note that Japanese models have only two language choices.

The next thing you should do is go to Option->Menu Mode and select Advanced to turn on all the menu features.

Installation of SonicStage went ok, though there was an error about a bad archive at one point. But someone should tell Sony not to screw around with the traditional method of downloading and installing from an archive file. Sony have their own download manager. The upgrade is a *huge* bundle, so someone should also tell Sony to hire better coders. Or, more likely, get managers with a clue.

I have subsequently upgraded to version 3.2, which solves many problems. The helpful folk at minidisc.org have put together their own installer as a standard zip file1. This gets around the problem of the proprietary download manager. Better yet, you can put this installer on a MD and then, when you get to a new computer:

1. Attach the MD unit which will show up as a drive.
2. Copy over the software.
3. Install it.
4. Run it and use to transfer audio.

Bingo! No separate install disks or internet connection needed.

1 You need to register with the forum before getting the installer.

The Hardware and User Interface

OK, so I really hate this remote control. Mostly I do hate remotes, since they are just another piece of hardware that companies can use to bump up the feature count on their units, when really they should be putting the money into better mic pre-amps. :-)

The remote is unusable. It was designed by an idiot. A very tiny idiot, with fingers like straws. There are no fewer than nine controls on this little thing. To change the volume one has to twist the end, which feels like it may just twist right off any time now. To switch the Hold on you will find yourself touching several other buttons, so you do not end up holding what you wanted to hold, if you follow.

The Sound button creates pretty animations but I do not know what it does to the sound. Don't expect the manual to tell you. There's a rocker for previous/next with a centre push for play/pause. There are cheap little plastic push-buttons for Folder -/+ and Stop. Why isn't this on a similar rocker arrangement for consistency? Who knows; the entire UI is arbitrary. And none of this is remotely usable (pun intended) when the unit is clipped to some part of your clothing, as designed. Especially as the headphone connector comes out the left side, which is opposite to how 90% of people would want it. Otherwise, the display is upside down.

Let's have a look at the main unit itself. First, it is very cute. I like the implementation of the orange colour and the nice metal heft to it. It would be far cooler if the silver side band was also coloured, but maybe there wasn't enough orange metal at the factory. The much-touted EL display is almost invisible when off, and very readable when on. Unfortunately one has little control over when it will turn off. About 10 seconds after last touching a control, the display dims. From here it turns off or stays on forever, depending on the "Option->EL Light" setting. But if there is nothing playing, it will turn off even if you have told it not to. Erg.

The controls are all too small, leaving lots of space for "important" things like the Walkman logo, Sony name, etc. Why this is the case, I cannot comprehend. Bigger, more usable buttons would be much more useful. The assignment of functionality is also less than ideal. The up/down rocker navigates through the menus, or songs. Nearby back/forward buttons also skip through songs. I guess we need two ways of doing the same thing. But there is no review/fast-forward functionality.

Let me say that again. There is no way to fast-forward through a song without using the remote. Since I keep the remote in a closet, this sucks.

Actually, the navigation controls *do not* do exactly the same thing, since when looking through a file list the back button serves to go to the folder view, but in the song view it takes you to the previous song. Which is also what rocking up does. Except that rocking up also takes you to the song/folder list. Sorry, but I cannot explain it better than that!

Above this setup is a small Cancel/CHG button, which is also a stop button. You may not notice that fact at first. It is set too close to the previously mentioned rocker complex to easily use at all angles. Besides, if you stop and then use rocker combinations to navigate though songs, you will find yourself starting the music again, since the rocker does that as well.

Further, the Stop button does not technically stop at all, but rather pauses. Which is to say that the position in the current song is retained. So when used together the centre rocker button and the Stop button act as a play/pause combo. It makes no sense to me to separate these functions. Why can't the play button toggle between play and pause?

Moving up one more button we get to Search/Light/Menu. If the light is off this turns it on. If the light is on, this takes you to the search menu. If you hold this down for 2 seconds you get into the menu. Every time you choose a menu option you get thrown out again, and must hold down this button for 2 seconds. This is stupid. But at least the interface remembers the last major menu option you were on, so you can navigate to a new submenu a little quicker.

BTW, there is no Display button. To change the display (to get from time elapsed to time remaining, for example) you must go into the menu. There is no program button, so to set up shuffle or repeat play or something you must again use the cumbersome menu. In any case, these settings are not remembered when the unit is restarted, which is inane.

The next button up towards the top of the unit is volume up/down which works and also turns on the display. Hmmm... guess they didn't need that Light button then! The volume range is not great, so you'd better have efficient headphones.

Finally, above all this are Record and Track Mark buttons, but I'm not going to cover recording in this section.

The Hold slider is on the top face of the unit, next to the audio in/out sockets. I like this, as I generally like the overall ergonomics of where the ports are.

I should mention that you cannot decide to turn the unit off. It decides for you. Boot-up time from unit off to playing a track is almost exactly 2 seconds in Quick Mode, which is an excellent figure. When starting the unit is continues play from where it was last time. Disabling Quick Mode saves battery life and results in a start time of about 10 seconds.

Noise when accessing the MD is minimal and not distracting.


Audio Quality

The sound is notably worse coming out of the remote than it is if you plug straight into the main unit. I don't think that should be a surprise considering the extra circuitry the remote puts between you and the sound source.

However, the sound itself is not as good as I would have hoped. I tested with a set of Grado SR225s and some LAME encoded MP3 files. I found the bass indistinct, the mids muffled, and the highs not very high. Setting up a custom EQ setting I was able to remedy this somewhat by setting up the bars at 1/0/0/0/1/2. (This may make sense if you realise there is a six-band parametric with +/-3 units of adjustment.)

However, EQ is no substitute for a better headphone amp. My little MP3 player, an MPIO FL100, sounds much better than this Sony MD.

I have not compared using uncompressed files, since my MP3 player does not support them. Comparing to my computer output would be a no-contest as you would expect from an RME digital interface.

In summary: with EQ tweaks and decent headphones (I usually use Koss PortaPro on the road) the MD sounds good enough for general listening. However, this still leaves room for improvement.


Recording Features

While recording you use the two tiny buttons next to each other: REC and T Mark. First, press them both together to enter "record pause" mode, from whence you can enter the menu and adjust settings. Then press REC to release pause and begin recording. Press it again to pause during the recording. It actually took me a long time to figure this out, because I didn't see that REC was also the Pause button.

While in "record pause" the unit will thankfully not shut off. So you can set up your recording to this point and wait for the correct moment before "rolling tape".

If you pause while playing, a new track is started automatically. There is no way to turn off this "feature". All of these tracks are put in the same group until you press the stop button. A new recording after this will then start a new group. This feature *can* be changed so that no new groups are created.

Just a note that you do not need to explicitly advance beyond the last track to safely start recording, as you did on older generation Sony MD recorders. Recording automatically starts after all other tracks. Thank goodness.

This unit records only in Hi-MD mode. Choices are PCM (uncompressed) with 94 minute capacity on a 1GB disk, Hi-SP with 475 minute capacity, or Hi-LP for about 34 hours. The Hi-SP format sounds to me very good; I have used it for speech and recordings where I knew my mics were the limiting factor.

While the unit is stopped there are five different displays that can be set through the menu. However, while recording you have no choices. The display shows track and group numbers plus elapsed time, an indicator if time mark is set, the type of recording, remaining time, and input meters.

Most of this seems well designed. The one truly annoying characteristic is that every time you start a new recording you must go into the menu ("REC Settings -> REC Level -> Manual") and switch the automatic gain control (AGC) off in order to adjust the record levels manually. I truly hope this menu option becomes "sticky" in a future upgrade (if such things exist).

When using analogue input, a new track is started automatically when the volume dips too low. The manual states that this happens after two seconds of below 4.8mV input (or -89dB digital). If you don't want your recording sliced up in this way, go to "REC Settings -> Time Mark -> On" and set this to the maximum of 60 minutes.


Software Operation

The much-maligned SonicStage software is indeed a gigantic piece of bureaucratic junk, exactly the type of software I would normally never let near my computer. It rips, it burns, it catalogues, it slices, it dices, and all in an inferior fashion. SonicStage cleverly tries to catalogue using ID tags, which I do not have on many of my tracks. But I do have a hard-drive full of carefully collated and organised music, which I would dearly love to simply see as a bunch of files and folders. Hey Sony! Is that so difficult to understand?

After letting the software import my music collection I ended up with a list of artists, alphabetised by the first character in their names, meaning incorrectly. Artists from various compilations were included not under the compilation but rather scattered all over the alphabet with single song entries; to clear this up they need to be deleted and the compilation manually imported as a playlist. Small variations in spellings in ID tags meant that some artists were listed several times. It may come as no surprise that by far the largest entry I had was for a blank artist, including all of the files that did not have ID tags, likely because they are my own sound files or something from miscellaneous sources. So that mess needs to go too, and then be all manually re-imported. Urg.

It would be ok for software to be this dumb, except for one critical problem: correcting entries takes forever, even though it's just a database field change somewhere. This is the final straw that breaks the app.


File Transfers

Behind the scenes the MD unit simply mounts on the file system as another drive, needing no special software to copy files to and fro. But these files cannot be played as music; in this mode the minidisc is just portable storage for any files you want. It would be incredible if Sony made it possible to manage all of the music content in this way as well. But this seems unlikely, as they like to control all aspects of our music lives.

The logic of this is baffling. Since I can easily copy copyrighted music files *as files* to the RH10, and then copy them from the MD to any other computer, what is the point of all the rigmarole about encoding, digital rights, etc. etc.? The same technology that helps the rights of copyright owners also helps circumvent them. The only loser is the customer who has to use crap software.

Bring on the reverse engineering projects!

While bitching in like fashion, I used SonicStage to transfer a few albums worth of MP3 files to the MZ-RH10. This worked well enough. Thankfully the software is multi-threaded, so one can do some file management while queued files are copied. But again things are not quite so happy in Sonyland. If you try to copy an album and there is not enough room, it will start the copying, warn you which files won't fit, but continue with the few that will, anyway. It would make a lot more sense to prompt the user as to whether they really want a partial album copied. There is a stop button to terminate an ongoing process, but this is not very responsive. And I did experience a software lock-up at least once.

Also, some multitasking simply cannot be done. For example, don't try to import a playlist while copying files to the unit.

And while the software *will* import M3U playlists, and even lets you create your own, there are many documented bugs and shortcomings in this process.

Once the MD unit is connected via USB it trickle charges and cannot be used to play or record. The trickle charge cannot fully charge the battery, so it makes sense to only connect when you need to transfer.

In older versions of SonicStage transfers of recorded files to the PC could be done only once. This limitation is gone. The first time the process of writing the OMA file is complete, you will be prompted with an option to automatically convert this to a WAV. This works without prompting for all future transfers, a rare sign of intelligence in the interface. The duplicate OMA file is not deleted, however, so you will need to do some manual cleanup to avoid disk pollution. The path for where files will be saved can be set as an option and is remembered.

All-in-all the upload process is painless, but not as nice as drag'n'drop.


Feature Roundup

The MD format has a lot going for it. A 1GB disc is a lot cheaper than 1GB of flash RAM or a CF card or any alternative except a hard drive. But hard drive players are not nearly as robust or immune to damage. If you damage a single MD your heart will not break, as I imagine it would when you break you 40GB iPod. I know people on their third unit, so this is not a theoretical problem!

The disk form factor is big in comparison to the alternatives, but the player size is not unreasonable. (In one dimension it's actually smaller than an MD case!) You won't confuse this with a tiny flash player, but the capabilities are not comparable either.

Battery life is excellent. The fact that the gumsticks are easily replaced is a huge bonus. You could simply charge up a few and carry them around for enormous playback longevity. HD DAPs cannot compare with this.

The build quality on the main unit appears very good. I am not about to torture-test my unit to see if this is true, so only time will tell.

Power-up time in Quick Mode beats most of the competition hands-down.

There is no radio and hence no ability to record from the radio. The cost to add this must I think be minimal, so I'm surprised it's missing.

There is also no clock or timer functions. A sleep timer, timer recording, and other functions would be trivial to implement and add significantly to the feature list. I would love it if recordings could be timestamped, for example.

The software is bulky, buggy, stupid, and monolithic. We hates it. I want to drag'n'drop files from my file system to the MD file system. If Sony wants some stupid encryption in the way, ok, go for it, just make it invisible to me.

The UI on the unit is so far from optimal that I recommend Sony hires me or one of my interface designer friends. I could design something better over a cappuccino. There is no reason that a MD recorder like this could not be entirely optimised for one-handed operations, with no common function more than a second away, and no need for a remote.



Improvements

This is the best portable recording device for the money. Nonetheless I'd like to see the following improvements:
• enable drag'n'drop audio file transfers
• improve the mic pre-amp to compete with external devices
• added a clock and timer functions
• redesign the hardware interface for usability
• menu options settings should be remembered between shutdowns
• improve the headphone amp
• gapless playback of audio files
• ability to queue files while another is playing
• add a radio (and record from radio ability)

Most of these are quite do-able and would result in a brilliant product.