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: 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


here before
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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
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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

size80 x 84 x 19 mm61 x 110 x 29 mm
volume128 cm3195 cm3
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$369
media typeminidiscCF or microdrive
price per GBUS$ 7US$ 70
maximum file size1GB2GB
battery typeNiMH gumstickLithium-Ion
battery swappable?yesno
stated battery life32 h8 h without phantom
record while charging?noyes?
interfaceUSB 2.0USB 2.0
music file transferproprietary softwaremass storage device
OS compatibilityWindowsWindows 2000 or XP, Mac OS X 10.3.9
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.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 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.


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.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Seven Days: Reviews

Seven Days of Everything, which I have written about and for extensively in a previous post, has been reviewed in at least three places, with widely differing results. If you know of any more, post a comment!

The 29 September issue of The Village has a very positive review. It is currently only in the paper copy, but should be free to read online soon.

The Irish Times may also have a review, but you have to be a subscriber to read it.

Irish Theatre Magazine reviews every show in the Fringe on the opening night, and gave one star to Seven Days. They would have been more honest to simply refuse to review what was obviously the beginning of a process that would later yield some lovely content and juxtapositions.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Shivering Sands

There are some particular pieces of architecture that seem emblematic of the structuralist order that dominated the world until the mid-twentieth century. Now, seen in decay and abandonment, these structures have a poetic power far beyond the appeal they may have had at their height. It is the appeal of power in abeyance. Foremost among these anomalies are the Maunsell Sea Forts.

During the Second World War, floating forts were created in several regions around the UK in order to combat attacks on shipping fleets. Those still remaining were built at Northfleet, Kent in 1942 and are now some miles off the Kent coast. Collectively they are named for their inventor, though each also has their own, rather lyrical, name.

The Forts have an intriguing history. Between 1964 and 1967 they became bases for pirate radio broadcasts, since they existed off the coast in territorial waters. Screaming Lord Sutch establishing Radio Sutch on Shivering Sands, Radio 390 was located on Red Sands, Radio Essex on Knock John, and Tower Radio on Sunk Head.

Bob Leroi has pages of photos and info on the various radio projects. Two may be of particular interest: Red Sands and Sea Tribe.

Even more curious, from 1967 the Sea Fort Roughs has been occupied as the independent Principality of Sealand. Exactly what autonomy this state has is a subject of debate.

If you are in the neighbourhood you can take excursions to the towers. Some who do so take some nice photos.

Stephen Turner recently spent five weeks alone on Shivering Sands as an artist project. His blog is of particular interest.

Finally, there is an active project to save the Maunsell Sea Forts. I wish them well.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005

New Sidebar Links: Web Design

I've added a bunch of links to the sidebar under the heading "web", though they are all, more specifically, about web design. All of these will help you if you are particular about correct accessibility, usability, and suitability of design for the web.

Evolt is a community site that contains everything from code tips to job advice. Digital Web covers all aspects of the web design world in a peer-reviewed magazine format. SitePoint is quite commercial and rather too technology-oriented. A tip to enjoying the articles is to hit the "print" button so the majority of the screen cruft is vanquished. The Web Standards Project fights for just that: a standards-based browsing environment. Stopdesign is a Californian consulting company whose site keeps up-to-date with the latest technology news and has some useful tutorials.
Sunday, October 02, 2005

Baudelaire Watches

I just got this wonderful piece of poetry in a spam email. And yes, the title was there as well!

feline cummings together lyons be I knife
lobotomy of cold only bug
timepiece benedikt well came why not wilkie
alliance then at city matriarchal hear shutout almost
dogmatism in give gusset centrex put eddy every
even larson I capo yesterday
emotion tomorrow put altern apprehensive to devastate any
bryophyte bestselling yesterday capacitance before against bayda
Saturday, October 01, 2005

Strange Links From The Past

This article was first posted on the web before March 2001. It is presented here as part of my Retro series.

For a while it seemed that everyone was videocam crazy. It all started with the Cambridge University Trojan Room Coffee Machine which is still on-line -- and looking pretty low last time I checked. It's funny how aquariums seem to make it to just about every media. Remember the TV station that carried nothing but a live feed of fish? Well, here's a site that does likewise. Probably my favourite video feed venture is Oinkernet, which stars small rodents of all descriptions.

If you think your job's difficult, just imagine what it would be like at NASA Headquarters. Or as a lawyer for Negativland. This group of media vigilantes are always being sued by someone somewhere. First U2 sued them. Then their own record label sued them because U2 sued them. Then... well, you can read all about it in NegativWorldWideWebLand. (And if you're interested in buying any of their CDs, start with Escape From Noise -- truly a classic.)

If you have a science background you will appreciate the careful research and methodological purity demonstrated by
Fun with Grapes -- A Case Study and Strawberry Pop-Tart Blow-Torches. These pages have been online for a decade.

Some people credit the rise of the World Wide Web and e-mail with the return of the art of letter-writing and a renaissance in text as a medium. Others point to the quality and content of the Web as a sign of the imminent intellectual decline of the human species. Besides an inability to spell and form correct sentences, the most annoying aspect of all this text is its logical flacidity. Everyone who cares about careful arguing should read The Fallacy Zoo.

I really like food. I mean it -- I just love food. So I can recommend the Tokyo Food Page, home to sushi colour swatches, worldwide restaurant reviews, recipes, and some witty writing. I can vouch for their tempura recipe!