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Thursday, August 21, 2003  

Technology: Lend me your ears

  • About the Benjamins
  • It started off normally. I would drop into the place and hang out for a while, doing more browsing than buying. In fact, at first, I rarely bought anything. Then, I began to make one, two or three purchases during each visit. The visits became longer, sometimes lasting 30 minutes or more. The amount of the purchases increased from 99 cents to triple and quadruple digits. The funds in my PayPal account showed a noticeable decline. Now, I find I would rather be there than read short stories by most unknown authors or eat ice cream on sultry summer days. The email invoices I receive daily intimidate me. I fear I am addicted.

    The place is Apple's iTunes Music Store. I've gradually succumbed to it, like a junkie who starts out smoking drug-laced cigarettes and ends up sticking needles in his arms without a second thought. Though the store is relatively new, its marketing, with MP3 singles that can be quite long selling for as little as .99 cents, is extremely seductive. Persons even more balanced than I have probably become victims. It is for that reason I seek your help. If you are also an AMS addict or know someone who is, commisserate with me. Perhaps together, we can overcome this plot to reduce our liquidity. Maybe it is time to begin a twelve-step program for folks in our situation.

    I knew I was sinking into quicksand when I realized I was buying music I could have just as easily downloaded free, via LimeWire, the peer-to-peer filesharing utility for the Macintosh community. What woke you up?

    Windows users, stop looking smug. Apple's music store is scheduled to become available to your platform by the end of the year.

  • To catch a thief?
  • While we're talking about music, we might as well discuss the very pregnant issue of peer-to-peer music services. As you know, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has threatened to prosecute those of us who use them. The latest twist in the controversy is one about language that gets my legal taste bloods tingling.

    Stephanie Craig was flabbergasted two weeks ago when she came home from school to discover that her father had emptied her hard drive of downloaded tunes.

    . . .Eventually, she shared her father's concern and stopped downloading music. To this day, she remains ambivalent about doing so, even after the Recording Industry Association of America said on Monday it would go after "substantial" file sharers rather than "de minimis users" of music-file-sharing programs.

    The RIAA's statement to Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, appeared to depart from previous statements in subpoenas against more than 900 file sharers, who appeared to be randomly named. The defendants included college students, unsuspecting parents, Internet service providers and even grandparents.

    . . .In a nine-page letter addressed to Coleman, RIAA president Cary Sherman said, "RIAA is in no way targeting 'de minimis' users. RIAA is gathering evidence and preparing lawsuits only against individual computer users who are illegally distributing a substantial amount of copyrighted music." He offered to follow up with paperwork to assure Coleman that the lawsuits were distributed in a "fair and equitable matter."

    The claim that the RIAA will target only substantial filesharers while ignoring "de minimis" users does not match the evidence so far. Initially, I thought the industry would focus on mega uploaders who have chosen to make themselves well-known in return for the attention and applause that result from their generosity. That makes sense considering most of us wee downloaders rely on the giant uploaders for our material. However, the subpoenas to kids and grandparents scotched that notion. Now, what we have is an RIAA talking out of both sides of its mouth, apparently in hope of creating such a chilled atmosphere that all users of peer-to-peer services will become frightened and quit.

  • I (sort of) rock
  • Someone bought me an iRock and I've been trying it out for the last couple weeks. For those not familiar with this class of gadgets, they are called wireless music adapters. They allow the user to connect his MP3 player to a home or a car stereo, producing robust sound without earphones or cables snaking to and fro. The iRock can also be used to transfer output from one's tinny computer speakers to the home stereo, negating the need for dedicated computer speakers.

    Simply plug the 300W into any audio output source (MP3, CD, cassette player, etc), choose one of four FM frequencies, and tune your radio to that frequency. All you do is relax and listen without wires or clumsy cassette adapters.

    The product usually garners good reviews, so I believe it must work well enough for most people who own it. However, my own experience has been mixed. A clear signal among the four frequencies offered is hard to find. Therefore, spotty reception occurs as much as 10 percent of the time with the best signal selected. (The others are hopeless.) This may be because I live in an area with a high degree of radio frequency traffic. The signal also fails to carry the five or six feet between my computer desk and the stereo in my home office without substantial static.

    The iRock devours batteries (a pair of triple As) like a newborn at the breast. I consider myself lucky to get two two-hour sessions from a set.

    Finally, the product is warrantied for only 90 days and has a purposely discouraging exchange policy in case of defects.

    My advice is to buy the iRock only if you are sure it will suit your needs. You may want to read reviews of other wireless music adapters before making a decision.

    10:38 PM