g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

Steven Den Beste
James Lileks
Little Green Footballs
As the Apple Turns
Cold Fury
Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
Ravishing Light
Cartago Delenda Est

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

Buy 'em and I get
money. I think.
BSD Mall

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11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
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10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Saturday, May 3, 2003
13:18 - That sick sinking feeling

Wired reports that the stuff we've been hearing about the iTunes Music Store's wild out-of-the-gate success is not exaggerated; if anything, it's too modest.

"We've been hearing amazing numbers," said Jeremy Welt, head of new media at Maverick Records, which is partly owned by Madonna and is home to several big artists, including Alanis Morissette, the Deftones and Michelle Branch.

Welt declined to specify the numbers he'd heard, but said after just two days, sales from iTunes dwarfed Maverick's other online distribution deals, which include Pressplay and MusicNet.

"It's much bigger than anything else we're doing," he said.

Like most of those contacted for this story, Welt was absolutely giddy about the new store. Seduced by how easy it is to use and the fun of exploring music he hadn't heard, Welt said he'd already bought several tracks, despite being able to get most music for free from his industry contacts.

However, Wired has to scrape up a negative angle-- otherwise they risk looking like unbalanced reporters with news that their subscribers might find unpleasant. So, on with the FUD:

Matt Graves, a spokesman for Listen.com, a rival subscription-based service, noted that the licenses Apple has signed with the big-five record labels aren't exclusive. Listen.com and some of the other subscription-based services already offer for download the same catalog of music as the iTunes store, Graves said. (However, subscribers typically pay an additional charge for songs that can be burned to CD.)

In addition, Listen.com provides access to a much wider range of music than the iTunes store, Graves said. Although a lot of that content can be heard as streams only, the service is better for someone exploring music than the free, 30-second clips at Apple's store, he said.

"(Apple's store) is an evolution, not a revolution," Graves said. "We don't see it as super-competitive to what we have."

Apple's digital-rights management system, designed to prevent downloaded songs from being shared wholesale across networks, has drawn fire.

Fred Von Lohmann, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said although Apple's system is less restrictive than most -- it allows sharing across three authorized Macs, and more or less unlimited sharing among CDs and iPods -- like all DRM systems, it will inevitably annoy some users.

"DRM systems are all the same," he said. "They're restrictive. Some people will run into some odd situation not thought of by the designers. They will be very annoyed and turn to a P2P system like Kazaa."

ITunes customers must pre-authorize their machines before they can share songs across three systems, and reports of complaints about the authorization process are already appearing on website forums.

In addition, Von Lohmann said DRM mechanisms are meaningless in the world of file-sharing networks, where most songs are ripped from unprotected CDs. When so many songs are available for free, he questions why Apple and others risk alienating paying customers with DRM restrictions. "It's like locking the back door while the front door is wide open," he said.

Got that? Apple's DRM is too restrictive. Unlimited burning of individual songs, ten burns of unaltered playlists, and free playback on three machines-- including automatic streaming across networks-- and people are going to shun it and go back to trusty ol' KaZaA because the DRM is too restrictive.

Any day now! Just watch! The shunning will begin... now! ...Uh... okay, now! Wait-- stop downloading! Stop! C'mon! Be pissed off with us! Go back to renting music for a monthly fee! Waait! Fellaaaas?!

Oh, and don't forget this bit: <cue Darth Vader Music> ITunes customers must pre-authorize their machines before they can share songs across three systems. Uh... guys? Here's how onerous it is to "pre-authorize" a machine for music downloaded through a given account:

1) Copy the music to that computer;
2) double-click on the song file;
3) type in your password, once.

That's it. Forever. I'm not sure how that qualifies as "pre-authorization", but I'm having trouble seeing an avalanche of criticism arising from how convoluted this process is. Hey, Weird-- if it isn't too much trouble, you might try using the service before panning it, hmm? Thank you.

But other complaints seem to stem from the fact that the service is too expensive-- Wired's angle is that the complaints are all coming from Windows users sniffing that you have to be rich (e.g. own a Mac) in order to use the service. (Thus far.) And LGF's commenters seem united in the "99 cents per track is outrageous!" opinion bloc. Y'know, this comes as rather a surprise to me-- how exactly is a dollar a track an unfair price? After Apple takes its 35 cents, the labels their probably sixty or so-- what's the artist left with? Is this deal an unexpected honeypot for the artists, or the labels, or Apple, or what? Considering that the price is lower than CDs no matter how you slice it, who exactly is getting ripped off here?

I especially like this comment:

One of the very few nice things about France, is that here, copying music is legal.

Heh. Any port in a storm, eh?

Something tells me this party's only just getting started. And I suspect a number of CEOs of music-rental services are digging for their heart pills.

06:07 - And-a-one and-a-two and-a...

Reseller chains' closing notwithstanding, there's still plenty to be happy about in Mac-land; this evening was the "iPod Live" in-store event, held in all the Apple Stores across the land at 6:00 PM.

Normally, these kinds of queues only form on the mornings of new store openings; but this one was in place right in the middle of the business day. (Marcus notes that it's a bit underhanded for Apple to decree that the new iPods are not to go on sale until 6:00; because they know most third-party resellers aren't open then, but the Apple Stores all are. So they get all the business from the first-adopter line-up-outside-the-door geek contingent, plus the happy money-spending people emerging from showings of X-Men 2.) They were still having to gate people into the store, and so I got to meet plenty of interesting people in line. Including two co-workers. Weird.

Here's some obligatory photo-muckraking:

The line snakes around to the left, around the escalator, down to Nordstrom and back.

View around the left.

Shirted employees were handing out sweepstakes entry forms, selling t-shirts ($10 a pop), showing off demo iPods, and leading the crowd in jingoistic cheers.

One of the flyer/entry forms.

A drug-inducedly cheerful line jockey demonstrates an iPod to a dour babushka.

Rounding the corner.

Here's what half of the new window display looks like-- lots of CD covers dangling in space.

A closer look.

The DJ inside, mixing MP3s from two bracket-mounted iPods into some very pretty JBL speakers (which you could win).

They didn't let us take photos inside the store-- I guess they're cracking down on that now-- but I got to ply some of the employees with probing questions about Apple's policies regarding DRM and about their handling of third-party resellers and such business practices. The woman I talked to said she used to work at the Corporate level, handling customer service case management; but she moved into retail because the people and the atmosphere were nicer. Go fig.

The new iPods are very slick; the biggest difference is how light they are. They feel like teeny little PDAs, now, not hefty pieces of milled metal. They're a good deal thinner, and the "hold" button is now tightly friction-bound and protrudes slightly. The control buttons, in their new layout, are all touch-sensitive; no moving parts in this version. The four little round buttons are all in slight recesses in the plastic facing, as is the scroll-wheel; the select button is slightly raised from the surrounding scroll-wheel (flush with the main body). I'm not too sure about the tactile feedback issue; now you have no way of knowing that the command you gave has been received, no reassuring "click" under your fingertip. Maybe it clicks if you turn the clicker on. I'm not sure. The new system has its upsides and downsides.

The backlight now fades in and out. Jesus God in a rumble seat.

I could have gotten a free t-shirt if I'd picked up a new iPod today; but a) I'm trying to save my money, and put it into things like furniture for the new house, not spend it on toys; and b) I'm realizing more and more that I won't be able to stomach parting with my trusty old 5-gig from the very first weekend. Yes, it's an emotional attachment. Shut up.

I'll get one eventually. But not today.

Anyway-- it's now been raining fairly continuously for almost a month; not the heavy, blanketing, ponderous rain that makes everything dreary and irritating, but sporadic showers mixed with bright blue skies and shafts of light beaming in between the cloud banks. Sunsets have been amazing lately. Every evening for some three weeks, the sky has been on fire.

This is that horrific miserable weather that Glenn Reynolds flew into. Y'know, I'll take this over boring cloudless sunlight any day.

Friday, May 2, 2003
19:01 - There Goes the Neighborhood

Last night, on the way to a midnight squash game, I drove by the freeway-facing side of the Apple Campus on I-280 and saw that there was a new banner up:

This replaces the "Less is more. More is more." banner for the 12" and 17" PowerBooks.

And just around the corner-- literally across the street from the Apple campus-- is this decidedly more glum sight:

Elite Computers & Software, the central Mac reseller in Cupertino for the better part of two decades, is apparently going out of business. So is the whole ComputerWare chain, similarly long-lived and a part of Silicon Valley tradition, which had gone under about a year and a half ago-- only to have its name, assets, and employees snapped up by the tiny octagonal Elite store. A few months after that, Elite expanded its floor space-- they knocked out a wall separating it from the next store over in the strip mall (an eyeglass store, I think), and filled it with software and iMacs.

Last I heard was that ComputerWare, under its new management, was doing great.

Then, without warning, this. I talked to the guys in Elite-- apparently word had suddenly come down from central management that it was time to close up shop and sell everything off at cost. (I fought off the urge to pick up a new G4 tower.) They didn't know anything about the reasoning behind the decision. I guess things just slipped out from under them-- maybe the expansion was an overreach. Maybe something was handled clumsily. Things can snowball. There's certainly nothing in Apple's business track record over the past year to suggest this kind of reversal of ComputerWare's fortunes; it must have been something endemic to the chain.

Still sucks, though. Glenn Reynolds isn't kidding when he says it's a gray day here in San Jose.
Thursday, May 1, 2003
20:44 - The gauntlet is thrown

The revelation of the William Morris agency getting the Boycott Hollywood site shut down-- the site dedicated to exposing Hollywood actors and actresses who whine incessantly about their right to dissent being stifled, shut down in as blatant an attempt to stifle dissent as can be imagined-- is so rich, so dripping with irony as to render me and many others simply speechless. I can't think of a thing to say about it; I'm in vapor-lock. It speaks for itself, I tell myself.

But it really doesn't. It's such a big issue that it has to be covered in as much gruesome detail as possible, to make sure everybody knows exactly what's going on and what horrible hypocrisies it uncovers throughout the American political landscape today. I'm not the one to do it; I don't have the strength.

Fortunately, Mike "Cold Fury" Hendrix does. He covers all the bases, and provides a much needed catharsis.

The only thing lacking now is universal awareness. This meme needs to spread.

18:40 - They don't let idiots fly Navy jets

Remember Bill Pullman's role as President Whitmore in Independence Day?

"I'm a fighter pilot; I belong in the air."

I wonder if audiences seeing that movie in 1996 thought such a statement was unbecoming of a President-- or if they couldn't resist a flush of wistful pride.

(Apparently he would have taken an F-18, but the Secret Service made him settle for an S-3B Viking. And he didn't actually do the carrier landing himself. But still.)

17:12 - Apple Killed the P2P Star

J Greely sent me a few interesting observations relevant to the avalanche of business the Apple Music Store has been seeing:

It wasn't all me, I swear! I stopped after 124 songs (at an average
price of $0.74), mostly because I want to have *some* money left
when I leave for Las Vegas next weekend. :-)

In the process I stumbled across a number of things that suggest
Apple is willing to let the labels tinker with the pricing and
availability to see what works, or to give them almost enough
rope to hang themselves. I've found complete albums that are only
available track-by-track, tracks that are only available if you
buy the complete album, albums that can't be bought track-by-track,
albums where twenty sub-minute tracks are still $0.99 each, and
tracks priced higher than $0.99. The most expensive album I've seen
was B.B. King's "Anthology" at $19.98, which has over 2.5 hours of
music on it.

Combine that with the massive amount of data being collected on
browsing and purchasing habits, all tied to individual users, and
I figure that in about a month, the labels will be wetting themselves
with joy over their ability to tweak pricing on a daily basis and get
real feedback on what motivates consumers. I suspect that we'll
start to see Virtual Greatest Hits collections that offer the same
discount pricing as "real" albums; the label can assemble a playlist
in a few seconds, upload a previously unused photograph as a "cover",
and *boom*. They don't even have to write liner notes.

That will also be the point when Apple starts to get a secondary
revenue stream, as the labels jockey for position on the home page.
If that means they have to supply exclusive tracks that people want,
I won't complain. The cool thing is that if they start trying to
create artificial "exclusives" that turn out to be crap, the market
will reject them with record speed.

Yeah. I'd noticed a few of these weird database entries, myself, but I hadn't made the logical leap to "price tweaking". Sounds like there's been a lot of negotiations and wrangling over the price structure back in the darkened rooms deep beneath the Apple Bunker; a lot of work has gone into making this venture into something that the labels can stick with.

Apple calls their DRM system "FairPlay", by the way; and thus far I've found just about nothing to dislike about it, except for one omission: server-side relational purchase tracking. (I've just sent them feedback about this.) They already keep your purchase history, so adding a more interactive and visual version of that functionality wouldn't involve any more of a compromise of privacy than is there already. And it would enable all kinds of useful consumer features, such as:
  • The ability to see at a glance, inline in the iTunes interface, which tracks you've already bought-- so you don't accidentally buy them again, like (for instance) if you buy one track from an album, and then decide you want to buy the whole thing;
  • The ability to recover (re-download) all the music you're "entitled to", if your hard drive crashes; right now they have a Knowledge Base article discussing how to back-up your music to CD/DVD, but that's not very satisfying;
  • The ability to "Check For Purchased Music" and download all the music you've bought onto all three machines you've authorized, rather than having to download it once and then copy it from one machine to another.

The metaphor isn't great, because what brick-and-mortar stores guarantee free replacement of merchandise that you lose or break? But then, this is digital media, so there's no manufacturing cost-- but then again, there's Apple's bandwidth costs to consider when you start talking about their providing more data transfers than they absolutely have to. So there's a nonzero hit they'd take for providing this service; but I think it'd be worth it. (.Mac exclusive feature, perhaps?) If they're making 35 cents per track sold, as the Reg article suggests, they might have plenty of elbow room in which to work out where they should be spending their infrastructure budget.

Anyway, J Greely also says:

Something I couldn't resist: one of my first purchases was the
theme song from Napster: Bow Wow Wow's "C30 C60 C90 Go". :-)

Sounds to me like we've just witnessed a "Video Killed the Radio Star" moment.

(And for what it's worth, I bought the "Da Da Da" song.)

15:21 - 275,000 Downloads in First 18 Hours

Sounds like the Apple Music Service is off to a pretty brisk start.

Apple's online Music Store sold around 275,000 tracks during its first 18 hours of operation, Billboard magazine's online news service has claimed.

That works out at over four tracks sold every second. Now, Apple is charging punters 99 cents per track. It would be interesting to know how much of that goes to artists (performers and composers), how much to the labels and how much is left to Apple.

I'm estimating that I'm going to be spending around $50 per week on music from the service; if these reported numbers are true, representing the purchasing activity of just the most technophilic segment of what's at best 5% of the computing population--just imagine what kind of rate this could ramp to. Even if Apple doesn't extend the service to Windows. But if they do, as the Reg suggests...
Billboard bases the claim for the number of Music Store tracks sold on comment from sources within major music labels. It also alleges that at least two labels have signed up for Apple's upcoming Windows version of Music Store. We'd have thought Apple would have built such a licence into its agreement with the labels from the word go, but maybe that's not the case.

Nope-- now we get to see just how enthusiastic the labels are about the service. If they sign the initial contract, just as a wait-and-see kind of experimantal gesture, that's one thing. But if they then come back for the second round, when Apple goes for the Windows market, then the music industry will have made the irrevocable transforming decision that commits them to the digital age for good.

Seems the independent labels are already clamoring to get on board:

Time asked, "What about independent labels? Will they follow suit?" Jobs responded, "Yes. They've already been calling us like crazy. We've had to put most of them off until after launch just because the big five have most of the music, and we only had so many hours in the day. But now we're really going to have time to focus on a lot of the independents and that will be really great."

I can't blame 'em. And another interesting aspect to this is that the limitations on the selection in the store are almost certainly due simply to a lack of time and priority; they just wanted to get the thing launched, and now the big step is to finish populating the database. It's gonna be huge.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003
12:19 - Keepin' it Bouncing

I've been following Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs for several months now. It's the kind of place that can really raise some eyebrows-- not just because of its content, but because of the reaction it inspires among those who don't like that content.

For those who haven't been to the site: its primary focus is the events in the Islamic world and surrounding environs that continue to shape the post-9/11 global political landscape. The timbre is unapologetic and uncompromising, and many people who stumble across it from left-leaning sources often mischaracterize it as a "hate site". LGF has been tarred as such numerous times over the past year or two, been de-linked from others' blogs in the midst of hands-fluttering scandals, and generally had its reputation precede it outside its own circles, and not in a good way. Charles has been fielding a lot of hate mail lately (or at least posting more of it, for the purpose of mocking it); sites like this one state glibly that Charles believes that "The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim". Now, while it's easy for someone who has followed the site for a long time to point out counterexamples which disprove that slur, a casual viewer who finds himself on the page is likely to be very startled by the content, and I can hardly blame such a person for being a little unnerved. I don't believe any of Charles' posts would hold up under scrutiny as being "hate speech" (though occasionally he has been known to overreact a bit to ambiguous, easily misinterpreted language); but nonetheless, there are times when I feel self-conscious about reading it, as though I should be worried someone might be reading over my shoulder and conclude that I'm some kind of Nazi.

Which means that LGF serves as a very interesting test case, now that the political-correctness era is being dealt its most serious blow by the fallout of 9/11. While it doesn't meet any of the criteria that would normally characterize a "hate site" (c'mon, Charles takes great pains to point out reasonable and hopeful viewpoints from within the Muslim world-- there are just precious few of them), LGF is perhaps the modern archetype of a straight-talking, call-it-like-he-sees-it rejection of PC moral relativism. The fact that the result looks to so many people like "hate speech" is a symptom of the sickness of our times.

Terry Gross' Fresh Air last night had as a guest a historian who spent the hour bemoaning the censorship that school textbook writers have imposed upon themselves-- insisting upon portraying every civilization throughout history as "glorious", for instance describing the achievements of the Mayans in towering, florid terms that make the students wish they'd lived there-- but not saying a word about how they performed ritual human sacrifice or hadn't invented the wheel. Similarly, textbooks insist upon treating every religion in a positive light-- focusing on Islam's 14th-century achievements, while glossing over the treatment of women in modern-day Sharia states and the undeniably important links to terrorism. (The fact that all textbooks get vetted for "accuracy" by a single Islamic scholar, as the historian noted, certainly doesn't help matters.) The result is that kids are being denied exposure to troubling intellectual problems, stunting their ability to make informed decisions later in life; they're presented with a description of a world that's peaceful and harmonious and egalitarian, while a step outside (particularly if you happen to attend Manhattan's Stuyvesant School) will tell you-- quite forcefully-- otherwise.

LGF is a guilty pleasure for a lot of people, I'm sure-- because it feels so much like "forbidden fruit" these days, like a voice from another time when the Thought Police weren't hovering outside our doors, when you could talk about things like requiring immigrants to learn English or like joking about how Asians are bad drivers, without being labeled a retrograde fascist Jewish Nazi. So a lot of the most respected people in the blogosphere are fans of LGF, and come down on Charles' side whenever charges of "hate speech" are leveled. It's one of the few sites that's so determined to pursue its chosen goal that it's willing to alienate the opposition to the point of attracting cyber-terrorism.

We can address the "root causes" of people's assessment of LGF as a site that claims "the ony good Muslim is a dead Muslim". I think it's fair to say that Charles thinks that something is wrong with Islam, or at least with certain popular practices of it, and that something needs to change-- something that explicitly bans the hateful incitement spewing from the imams of the faith's highest mosques; something that removes the incentive toward suicide-bombing and jihad in its modern virulent interpretation; something that expresses hope and joy for the here-and-now and the real world rather than nihilism and self-destructive yearning for the afterlife. But that's a criticism of Islam, not of Muslims-- except when we're talking about people who perpetuate exactly those problems within Islam. And when Charles points out some example of this kind of idiocy, the eyes of casual readers widen in horror at what may appear a condemnation of all Muslims and a desire for them all to be erased from the planet.

Again, this is an entirely inaccurate characterization of the site-- but it's reasonable to see how one might arrive at that viewpoint, especially if one is coming from a world of moral equivalence and political correctness. This kind of raw, unashamed criticism (of such sacred cows as "religion" and "culture") is hard to find these days. It's rare.

And in cases like LGF, where the content and the readership consistently backs up its claims with facts and reasoned discussion, and in which the supporting texts (from large-scale and respected sources) require so little in the way of embellishment to support Charles' position, it's equally easy to see why it's such a haven for those readers who are just plain sick and tired of bullshit.

To see just how far a site can go without venturing into its own kind of incitement and legitimately earning "hate" labels, LGF is probably it. I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a case study that forms a cornerstone of neoconservative/South Park Republican thought.
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
20:57 - Dorkiness Sells


I somehow missed these yesterday: the new lineup of ads for the Apple Music service.

They seem to be starting from the "Switch" campaign in their look and feel, but they take it a little further; yeah, these guys are dorky (wait'll you see Nic), but that's the whole point. We're talking lovable-dorky, not annoyingly-sanctimonious-dorky.

That kid Jacob does a great Eminem impression, incidentally.

Oh, and don't forget to watch the obligatory propaganda video-- every dork you've ever known is but a cipher compared to tattooed archetypal dork Tim Robinson, who emcees the thing. (What can I say-- he sells it well.) But it's also got Bono, Wynton Marsalis, and Alanis Morrissette, weighing in on the future of music and how Apple's Way Is Good.

I wonder what Courtney Love would think of the new service? Sounds to me like just what she was hoping for.

To wit-- the biggest change that's likely to come out of a music-sales model like Apple's is that "one-hit wonders" will become a thing of the past; artists who produce mostly "filler material" will have to either start producing more quality stuff, or risk being submerged underneath-- and sidelined by-- those artists who do produce consistently.

I think that's fairly unequivocally a good thing. For the artists, the music industry, and the buyers.

Monday, April 28, 2003
02:52 - So it's not my imagination

The first few AAC tracks I downloaded from the iTunes Music Store for testing purposes today were by Billy Joel and Paul Simon; as soon as they started playing, I knew something was very different. The drums didn't sound like they were coming from three or four inches to my left or right, like I was used to; they sounded like they were coming from OUTSIDE ON A BIG STAGE TO MY RIGHT or SIX FLOORS DOWN ON MY LEFT. It was seriously that different. The sound was deep, rich, full, and live. I was used to MP3s that sounded-- well, not bad, but just sort of... dull, and flat. This was nothing like those. It sounded like I remember analog tube amps sounding back when I was first growing up and listening to these same songs on my parents' stereo.

Surely it couldn't have been simply that these songs I'd chosen happened to be recorded more richly at the studio than all the rest of my music, could it?

Well, no. It's AAC, as CapLion helpfully explains.

Most MP3's that you'll find through file sharing networks employ a Joint Stereo audio track. Joint Stereo is an attempt at reducing the size of a file while still retaining "stereo" signals. In a joint stereo file, the compressor takes advantage of the fact that both stereo channels contain mostly the same information most of the time. So, when the two channels are similar, instead of compressing both a Left and Right channel, it adds the two together and produces a middle (L+R) and a side (L-R) channel. This allows a reduction in the final size of the file by using less bits for the side channel. During playback, the decoder will reconstruct the left and right channels from the middle and side data.

Sounds great, right? Well, not really, because when the middle and side channels are created, a lot of information from the original Left and Right channels is lost. This lost data generally ends up being subtle harmonics and tonal depth, and without it, you end up with a flat sound.

Ahh, right. What he said.

Dammit, now I have to re-rip all my music into AAC.

But not just yet; there's so... much... 80s music! So much downloading to do!

UPDATE: Aw hell... there's the e-mail invoice for today's music purchasing frenzy.


For what would normally have cost me around $50 in whole CDs, most of which I didn't actually want, plus gas and time.

UPDATE: Chris has a few more details:

The 'joint stereo' is usually applied to low frequency effects, because the ear can't tell whether it's coming from the left, or right, as much as middle or higher frequencies. This is why you can put your subwoofer off to one side and still have a good stereo environment.

However, the key is the 'as much' part. It's not a straight cutoff, but a lowering of the spatial perception as the frequencies get lower. I'm sure different people have different cutoffs, too, so the whole 'joint stereo' thing is an approximation; much better to just KEEP them separate, if you have the bandwidth to spare.

02:43 - There's no use hiding from meeee!

Aha! I spy me another camouflaged iBook on TV, this time in an ad for a Nokia videophone:

You think you're soooo clever, don't you, Mr. Ad Agency? Hah-- your paltry disguises are no match for my superhuman pettiness and legendary lack of anything better to do.

20:36 - All becomes clear

The questions about Apple's new music service appear to be answering themselves.

After a period of several hours today when it was just about impossible to push any search/browse queries through, or to log in to one's charge account (as others have noticed), the iTunes Music Store now seems to be clicking along quite smoothly. I've downloaded several experimental tracks-- hey, at a dollar a pop, it's at a price point where I don't mind the exploration fee-- and with the exception of a few obscure bugs in things like dialog box redraws when switching application panes, there seem to be no big problems with the service itself. Nice crisp audio, encoded at a bitrate that gives somewhat clearer sound than MP3 and at 80% the file size. I can get behind that.

The selection of available music is sort of weird. The large majority of content appears to be from the Universal/Vivendi label, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise; but that doesn't account for nearly all of it. There's stuff from just about every label on here. But there are some striking omissions; I'm sure every reviewer in the world will give 'em hell over the lack of any Beatles albums. (Just wait for the gleeful "Apple Records" insights to flow...) Judging by the "Coming Soon..." signs on a lot of artists' search-result pages and purchase association boxes, I suspect that the database is not completely populated yet, and the labels are probably watching today's searchin'-and-purchasin' dynamics very carefully to see whether they want to dive in all the way or beat a hasty retreat. If the morning's sluggishness is any indication of heavy usage and commerce volume, I should think we'll be seeing a greater selection very shortly. I'm not worried about that.

What's been more of a concern to those of us who have been eyeing this development with some alarm is the implications of DRM and the music sharing/personal privacy argument. How would Apple solve this? How did they make this service attractive to the labels, and yet ensure that users would not toss it aside as too onerous and cumbersome and invasive to put up with? Apple customers, taken as a whole, are a demanding lot; for a platform that has a reputation for being full of novices, the numbers these days are such that Mac users tend to be more savvy and well-educated in the ways of the digital age than the average extremely casual Windows user, a demographic that makes up a huge silent majority. More Mac users than Windows users, by percentage, will shun things like AOL and MSN and anything that looks like them.

So Apple knew they had to win these people over; just because Mac people are so fanatically supportive of Apple doesn't mean they won't crucify Steve over a ham-handed and abusive music service that embodies every fear they associate with Microsoft. (Witness the flap over Sherlock 3 and Watson, which still is making waves and generating resentment.) What they've come up with appears to be very much in the spirit of Safari: laid-back, convenient, helpful without being intrusive, and actively trying to minimize the annoyances we all hate about e-commerce: just as Safari has built-in pop-up blocking, iTunes' Music Service has no pop-ups or banner ads. Just searchable and clickable titles in pleasant layouts, an easy hierarchical architecture, and "Buy Song" buttons integrated into the standard iTunes interface.

So, that's all well and good. But what about the DRM? Surely Apple doesn't just let you download songs and then run amok with them...?

Nope. You get three computers on which to play your music. Three. This is enforced as follows:

You login to the system using your Apple ID, which can be your ID from the Apple Store or your .Mac account; you associate it with a credit card and set up the linkage. Then you download a track (the default behavior is "1-Click"-- you can also choose to use a shopping cart workflow); it goes straight into your Music Library. It's an .m4p file, or "MPEG-4 Protected" (as opposed to .m4a, or "MPEG-4 Audio"). This file is tagged with an encrypted signature which locks it to your Apple ID account. This signature can only be locked/unlocked by entering your password and sending a query to the central Apple server. So they have a central key database; this is the kind of thing we've always worried about when hearing about .Net and Hailstorm and so on, warning of the dire danger of such a rich hacker target. But the key database is only half the security equation; I'll leave it up to the security experts to decide how vulnerable the system is, as implemented here. It doesn't seem like it's that terrible, on the face of it.

So then, let's say you want to take that .m4p file and play it on another computer. You can do it one of two ways: share it through automatic streaming ("Music Sharing"), or copy it. If you enable Music Sharing, you open up your laptop, and the playlists on your other machine show up among the data sources. You can then go and double-click on the song to play it. But iTunes notices that it's a protected AAC file; it checks and finds that your laptop is not authorized to play songs tagged for your account. So it gives you an authentication box; you put in your password, and it unlocks your account for that computer. Now you have two of your authorization "slots" used up. (The first becomes used on the first machine as soon as you play your first downloaded song.) From then on, you can play any music downloaded through that account on either computer.

It's the same if you copy the actual .m4p file over. You can open it up in the Finder's Preview pane and play it; but unless the OS has been unlocked for your music account, even the Finder won't be able to play it; it pops up a dialog asking you to authorize the computer through iTunes (there's an "Open iTunes" button). Once you authorize it, the song starts playing in the Finder. So that's how you'd go about moving your whole file collection from one computer to the other.

Because you can "deauthorize" computers, too. You get three "slots" for authorized computers, which you can dole out and reapportion at any time. You can go to Advanced->Deauthorize Computer and enter your password to lock the .m4p files back up; then you get a slot back, and you can assign it to a different computer, like if you wanted to share music with someone else's computer at work for a brief period.

I like how they came up with the number 3 for the total number of authorizations; in the Help, it talks about listening to music on "your home iMac, your iBook, and your work computer". What, are they looking over my shoulder or something? This sounds like a perfectly reasonable number of Macs for a person to use simultaneously, beyond which Apple and the labels can reasonably start to wonder just how much use you're getting out of those downloaded tracks.

(You now have the choice to rip songs from CD as AAC files, by the way. If you do, they're created as .m4a files, and they're not locked in any way; you can share them freely via Rendezvous, e-mail, LimeWire, whatever. You can continue to import in MP3 as well.)

Apple has struck a very workable balance here, I think. This isn't pay-for-play, or some dumb scheme like that; but neither is it so free and unfettered as to drive away the labels. This isn't a vampire tap into the user's checkbook, but nor is it a business non-starter. It's somewhere in between.

And it's clear that Apple's goal here is not to hobble the everyday legal user of music, or to suck his wallet dry at all opportunities, but to hamper the mass-producers and broadcasters. They've implemented blocks and security technologies which you can work around, but not without a lot of effort. You can copy .m4p files all around the office, and enable them one at a time for each person (though never more than three at once), but the incentive for that is nil. Just as you can poke and prod at an iPod until it can be used to ferry MP3 files from one computer to another; but who wants that kind of hassle? Most users won't even want to do that, and those who want to make mischief will find themselves tripped up. Apple's figured out that the best kind of DRM is the kind that doesn't get in the way of law-abiding users, but does get in the way of would-be flouters of the rules. And they seem to have worked to that design spec.

Another example of that is the fact that you can only burn ten copies of a given unaltered playlist. After that, you can shuffle the tracks around, or re-create the playlist; but that takes some work. (Plus it might keep a database of past playlists, so even if you create the same one over again, it might recognize it as the same thing you had before.) Fine, someone says-- I'll just keep changing the playlist! Yeah, but that sort of defeats the purpose of a mass-produced bootleg, doesn't it? Again, this isn't a block that's impossible to work around; but it does trip up the scriptability of second-hand mass production. Same with how you can burn CDs of individual songs all you like-- the casual user gets that functionality without restriction, but that doesn't exactly provide a honeypot of a weakness to someone trying to bootleg. Or you could register tons of Apple IDs, but that's not exactly automatable, and they all have to be tied to a credit card, so what's the point? And finally, you could simply resample the audio stream to an MP3 with an audio loopback cable; but you could do that with a CD, even a copy-protected one. The point is that the only kind of piracy you can really get away with is small-scale, laborious stuff; there are enough monkey-wrenches present to counter large-scale piracy that it's unlikely to be an issue.

And in the meantime, the system works really well-- it's design is simple yet sophisticated, effortless yet satisfying. People are going to enjoy using this service, and even enjoy paying for it. The incentive to pirate will be greatly diminished, and that's the real key.

When the labels reportedly said, "This is what we've been waiting for"-- it may well have been code for an understanding of the digital age in which they realized that they wouldn't be able to extract payment for every single track, every single playback; but they would be able to continue to exist and even thrive, if only they backed a technology that people wanted to use even if it contained security technology. As long as those security features didn't hinder people from enjoying the product, all they really had to do was stick the occasional twig into the spokes of those who would take advantage of the system. That seems to be exactly what Apple's done here.

I have yet to really start to use this system, but I'm sure I will. I wasn't wild about the idea of DRM in the first place, and I'm still not; but let's talk about the spirit of the thing. Just as UN Res 1441 was all about the spirit of cooperation, of Saddam's acting in good faith to provide inspectors with evidence of compliance with previous UN resolutions, rendering the actual implementation rather moot-- Apple's understanding of the spirit of proper DRM and listeners' rights here seems to transcend the binary support or abhorrence of any and all DRM. They're actively trying to "do the right thing", here, and make some money while they're at it. I'd say they get plenty of points for making the effort under such a banner. It could have been a whole helluva lot worse, after all. This may be the closest thing to "the best of both worlds" as we've seen in a while.

I'm getting excited about acquiring music again, for the first time in ages-- and from what I'm hearing, I'm not the only one.

UPDATE: Oh yes: What happens if you pay for a song, but then your Net connection gets cut off before you can finish downloading it? Good question. Apparently the credit-card transaction occurs at the time you click to begin the download; but Apple records whether the download completed successfully, so you can then go back with the Advanced->Check for Purchased Music option, and if there's anything pending, you can re-download it. However, there doesn't seem to be a facility to re-download tracks that you are "entitled to"; you can, if you choose, pay for a song a second time. It doesn't protect you against the loss of all the copies you might have of the file; that's your responsibility.

UPDATE: Here's some info from Apple on the authorization/deauthorization process. One interesting bit:
Note: Initializing the drive will not deauthorize the computer. If you will be initializing the drive, deauthorize the computer first, then initialize the drive.

So the authorization status survives a drive reformat? I guess that means the status is governed by the central server primarily; I guess it also means you can't fool the system if you take a computer that's been deauthorized, then restore its disk image from a backup that still thinks it's authorized (and then never connect to the Music Store again). I wonder how this is done...

Another UPDATE: Several people have called my attention to the fact that the Music Store has a "Request" mechanism-- three links down on the main screen, you can fill out a form to request that they add your suggested artist, album, song, genre, or whatever. No real indication of how binding that would be-- but it tells me that the selection is bound to start blossoming in the near future. The current omissions are presumably a result the taste of whoever made the initial selections for populating the database, rather than any contractual obligations.


14:35 - Help! I'm behind again!


Well, well, well. It seems all the rumors were true, even the really off-the-wall ones.

Apple has released its new music service-- the iTunes Music Store-- along with a new version of iTunes; and there is a new iPod, pretty much exactly as Think Secret described it, with 10/15/30GB sizes, a docking station, reorganized buttons, a smaller profile, and USB 2.0 support. (Yes, USB 2.0.)

And what's more, it seems my current iPod is now officially obsolete. I've installed the new iPod firmware (v1.3), which supports AAC playback and the iTunes Music Store, but so far the only big change I can see is that now the "Backlight" option appears right on the main menu. Everything else is the same.

Presumably you have to buy a new iPod to get all the new PDA features-- I guess there's more RAM capacity in the new ones or something. But yes, PDA capabilites. The iPod is now officially a PDA, so it would seem. There's now a note viewer, an alarm-clock function, three different games (including Solitaire! Solitaire finally comes to the Mac!), and a number of music-playing functions that previously were iTunes-side-only have now been enabled on the iPod. Now you can rate songs on the fly (the 1-5 stars scale), and create "On-The-Go Playlists" which seemingly sync up with iTunes once you're done. None of this stuff is on my lowly, year-and-a-half-old 5GB scroll-wheel iPod. Daawww.

(Seriously-- I don't know what I'll do with it if I get a new one. I can't bear to throw it away.)

The USB 2.0 support is interesting; it's clearly a bone thrown to the Windows side, but it means the new solution to connectivity can be fairly tidy: a single docking-station port on the bottom of the iPod, with both FireWire and USB 2.0 built-in. (Presumably, this means they can release FireWire 800 support in the future, with just an iPod firmware update, and all you'll have to replace is the docking station. Nice.) But it's also Apple's first tacit acknowledgement of USB 2.0, and it's on the iPod first, before any actual Macs. My guess is they still want to wait until FireWire 800 is present across the board before they add USB 2.0. It'll be a good checkbox item to have once they do.

Anyway, iTunes 4 has those new, flat iMovie3-like buttons, and seems to work the same as it always did; but now it's got a number of extra little nifty enhancements and rough edges sanded off. It now displays album art, for instance, and it has full AAC support (if you have QuickTime 6.2). There's a whole slew of new controls to deal with in the Music Store data source. But one thing I'm pleasantly surprised to see is "Shared Playlists"-- remember back when Jaguar was on the way, and they showed a demo on stage of two TiBooks sharing iTunes playlists with each other via Rendezvous? Jobs and Schiller walked to within AirPort distance of each other, and their Macs immediately discovered one another and started streaming music upon request? Then Jaguar was released, but that feature wasn't to be found in iTunes 3-- all Rendezvous appeared to be useful for was iChat, and creating personal web server pages. Whenever I talked to anybody in an Apple Store or on an expo floor, all they could tell me was that maybe the RIAA had shaken a few fingers at Apple and told them not to implement that feature. Music-sharing and all that-- evil, y'know.

But now it's in iTunes 4, just as previously advertised; and when you enable Music Sharing in the Preferences, you get a dialog box that says "Remember: Sharing music is for personal use only." So perhaps they're still treading that ragged edge of official legal sanction.

As they must be with the iTunes Music Store itself. Man... what an ambitious venture this is going to turn out to be. There's a ton of stuff available, as one might expect; it's all for a dollar a track, with full-quality 30-second previews available for all songs (selected judiciously from within the song, not just the first 30 seconds), "Hot Picks", featured lists, and all the rest. There's a column-view-esque browser view, as well as basic and advanced search functions. It all looks very large and a bit intimidating; they've made it look very pretty, but it's going to take some getting used to. Anybody from the Napster Generation is going to have to adjust to the idea of selecting music tracks of guaranteed quality, using an easy and yet sophisticated search scheme, to download exactly the music they want at very affordable cost from the actual vendor. Wow. What a concept.

Out of the gate, it looks like the service has a few bugs to work out. The installer process needs a little soak time; the Music Store requires iTunes 4, and iTunes 4 requires QuickTime 6.2, and downloading each of those manually from the website gives you an admonishment to "Nex time use Software Update"; but Software Update, as of today, makes no mention of either update being available. (Besides which iTunes 4 seemed to run fine without QT6.2.) And the Music Store service itself seems to be rather swamped. I keep getting timeout errors (or something-- Error 504?) on database queries, and I can't seem to log in using my Apple ID. I think either they massively underestimated the load they'd be sustaining (wouldn't be the first time), or the system is woefully untested (again, wouldn't be the first time). But infrastructurally and logistically speaking, this is a huge undertaking, and I would have been far more surprised if it had worked flawlessly right out of the box. I'm sure it will smooth out over the next few days.

Those few days are going to see me racking my brains for the names of songs I remember hearing way back when and losing track of, so I can seek them out and download crispy fresh new copies; and it's also going to see me scrabbling in amongst the sofa cushions for loose change to convert into a new iPod.

Or perhaps not; I wouldn't want to hurt the feelings of my current one. It's not its fault we're both behind the curve now.

Poor thing.

UPDATE: Here's the nitty-gritty of the DRM terms:

The iTunes Music Store is fast and convenient for you, and fair to the artists and record companies. In a nutshell, you can play your music on up to three computers, enjoy unlimited synching with your iPods, burn unlimited CDs of individual songs, and burn unchanged playlists up to 10 times each.

Okay-- that answers a number of questions, and raises quite a few more...

UPDATE: As of 4:00 PM PST, the kinks in the service seem to be worked out; I can now sign in, search, browse, and move around the system with very little delay. Guess they got some more servers online.

Also, Chris points out to me that the purpose of moving the iPod's playback/navigation buttons to a row above the scroll wheel, instead of their previous ring around the wheel, is to allow them to go the the touch-sensitive track-pad sensor buttons for all of them, not just the wheel. (Early iPod owners complained a lot about taking their iPods to the beach and getting sand in the scroll-wheel, hence the move to the track-pad wheel.) If they'd stayed with the old button layout, but made the ring buttons touch-sensitive, there would be no tactile separation between them and the scroll-wheel; moving them to the row above lets the user navigate by feel as well as keeping the sand out.

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© Brian Tiemann