Glenn Vanderburg

: Blog

infosyndicate
8 of 16 articles »
Art Bugs
Thu, 21 Aug 2003 (15:46) #

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary, and one of the gifts Deborah got for me was Little Worlds, the Flecktones album I blogged about last week (even though I forgot to publish until today).

It takes a while to assimilate three discs of new material, but so far it's excellent. I'm particularly fascinated, though, by the introduction. Pop disc one in the player and it starts straight in with music. But then hit the reverse-scan button and keep going past (that is, prior to) the beginning of track one. Keep going until you've rewound to the -2:40 point and let go. There's a humorous introduction featuring David St. Hubins and Harry Shearer of Spinal Tap.

The booklet inside the CD case explains that not all CD players support that "feature". Ours at home does, but (as you might expect) the one in my laptop doesn't.

I don't know much about the CD format specs, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that such things are documented features of the way the CD format is supposed to work, and not just bugs found in many CD players. Still, though, it feels like exploiting a bug -- or at least a quirk -- in a particular medium for art's sake. (Or maybe it's just entertainment.)

It's cool, and funny, but it leaves me with a very strange feeling. I'm old enough to remember vinyl LPs all too well. From the very beginning, CDs were appreciated for their physical durability, and also because the digital recording didn't degrade. It's nice to know that those CDs will still sound pristine after quite a few years, and it's also nice to know that (copy protection measures aside, which is a different debate) I can convert the music and it will continue to be viable after media has changed and CDs have become obsolete.

Except, it seems, for the intro to Little Worlds. I've ripped the CDs into iTunes (and thence to my iPod) but the intro is missing. Even if that feature really is a documented part of the CD-audio spec, it's a quirk that's not likely to be duplicated by future media formats. I rarely play physical CDs anymore, but if I want to hear that intro again, apparently that's how I'll have to do it.

But anyway, like I said: it's cool, and funny, and leaves me with a very strange feeling. I have a sneaking suspicion that Béla and the band would love that reaction.

What are the odds?
Tue, 12 Aug 2003 (10:14) #

I enjoy the music of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. This past weekend, Greg Vaughn mentioned Fleck to me in passing (he was listening to some old tunes by New Grass Revival, Fleck's older band). Today I remembered that and realized that it has been about three years since the last Flecktones album I knew about, Outbound. "I wonder if they've released anything new since then?"

Off to Google! There's the site ... yep, they have one new studio album, a three-disc set called Little Worlds. Release date: August 12, 2003. Hey, that's today!

Uh ... yeah, I knew that. I was keeping up. :-)

Intellectual Accuracy
Fri, 24 Jan 2003 (16:36) #
I've been gradually coming to understand the impact of the Eldred decision, and it's been fascinating to read Lessig's blog during the past week or so. He points to a great piece by Doc Searls arguing that many people completely miss the point because they think of copyright as a property right. And in calling for a return to the original 14-year copyright term, The Economist makes the related point that the originators of the idea of copyright didn't see it as a property right at all.

In this country, at least, calling copyright a property right creates some strange contradictions. In the U.S., property rights are nearly sacred, and can't be violated by the government except in very limited circumstances, and then only on a case-by-case basis for specific items. The idea of limited terms for intellectual property rights simply doesn't fit well into the overall view of property rights.

I'm tilting at windmills, I suppose, but I'm going to stop using the term "intellectual property." (I'm curious, by the way, about the origin of that term and how it came into common use.) For the moment, until I hear a better alternative, I think I'll call it "creative output" instead.

Christmas Books: The Parrot's Theorem
Thu, 02 Jan 2003 (15:47) #
I really enjoy books, and my taste is broad and often a little strange. Plus, I pay attention to books (using resources like the bookshelf section of Rael Dornfest's page). So it's really unusual for someone to give me a book that's both right up my alley and also unknown to me. This year, it happened twice. Here's the first one.

We lived in Australia for a few years in the early '90s, and naturally made some wonderful friends there. For Christmas this year, our friends Doug and Trisha Paice sent me a copy of The Parrot's Theorem, by Denis Guedj. It's a novel about the history of mathematics, and it fits my criteria for great gifts: I wouldn't have bought it for myself, but I'm delighted to have it. I'm halfway through, and it's a lot of fun.

If you're looking for just a good page-turner of a novel, you can safely skip it -- the story probably won't grab you if you don't have at least a passing interest in the history of mathematics. And there are some distinct weaknesses in the writing (which I think may be due to a sloppy translation from the original French). But it's fantastic for me ... I find the basic theme interesting, and I would love to know more about it, but I probably wouldn't bother to slog through a serious book about the history of mathematics. But the fictional story of The Parrot's Theorem gives the topic a narrative structure that makes it a fun and easy read.

(Additionally, through this book I was reminded of another book that I had heard of but forgotten: Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy. Supposedly it is a terrific book, working better as a novel than The Parrot's Theorem. I'll have to add it to my wish list.)

Christmas Books: Victorian Science Fiction
Wed, 01 Jan 2003 (17:00) #
At any given moment, I'm in the middle of more than one book. I just tend to get fiercely interested in something else before I finish with one book, so I go off on a tangent for a while with a new book, eventually coming back to finish the first.

About a week before Christmas I was rereading Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. It's a really interesting book, in part because of its form: it is quite definitely a science fiction novel, but it is structured as a Victorian novel, complete with the distinctive chapter headings: a little graphical ornament, and a short synopsis of the events that will happen in the chapter.

Then I spent a lunch break at the bookstore, and came across a book I'd heard many good things about: To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. Based on universally good reviews, I've been wanting to read it for a few years, and I was in a hurry, so I just snatched it from the shelf and bought it on an impulse.

Lo and behold, it's another Victorian science-fiction novel. Without planning it, I find myself in the position of simultaneously reading two Victorian science fiction novels. There can't be too many books that fit that description; what an interesting coincidence.

More Quicksilver info
Fri, 22 Nov 2002 (21:11) #
I spent part of lunch today in the bookstore. Cryptonomicon is finally out in a mass-market paperback (approximately a foot thick). And I couldn't help but notice that the cover said it contained an excerpt from Quicksilver. Next thing I knew, I was in one of the big comfy chairs.

The excerpt definitely made me want to read more. (I've been getting hungry for more from Stephenson anyway.) It takes place around the turn of the 19th century, on the cusp of the Enlightenment. We see the ancestors of Lawrence Waterhouse and Bobby Shaftoe, along with Isaac Newton, Liebniz, a young Ben Franklin, the founding of MIT, and -- as many have suspected -- Enoch Root.

It's the first volume of a series called The Baroque Cycle, and apparently it will be published in October, 2003.

Teach me to see
Thu, 31 Oct 2002 (05:12) #
This morning, as usual, I listened to Morning Edition on the way to work. Bob Edwards was interviewing a Norwegian singer named Sissel about the release of her first U.S. album. Sissel has sold a lot of albums in Europe, but is virtually unknown here. (Selling a lot of albums doesn't necessarily impress me, but touring with The Chieftains does, and what I heard of her music this morning sounded pleasantly accomplished and eclectic.)

She spoke about one of the songs on her album, "Lær Meg Å Kjenne," which is an old Norwegian hymn. Translated, the title means "Teach me to see your pathways." The story behind the hymn is of a man coming home from a pilgrimage to find his house burned down and his family killed. He falls to his knees, and the hymn is his prayer.

Bob Edwards said, "And you sang this at a wedding?"

Sissel replied, "Well, yes -- it's a song of trust, of knowing that there's a plan."

From what I heard of the song, I'm with Sissel. A wedding is joyful, of course, but the joy comes from the binding of two lives together, as much to stand by each other through the hard times as to share the joys of the good times. In a ceremony that contains the words "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part," a song like "Lær Meg Å Kjenne" has a place.

There's an English hymn with a similar history. In 1873, Horatio G. Spafford received word that his family had been lost in a shipwreck. His response? The magnificent hymn "It Is Well With My Soul." There is certainly sadness in it, but also calm assurance, as well as triumphant joy:

My sin -- oh, the bliss of this glorious thought --
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, oh, my soul!
Beginning the Day ...
Fri, 18 Oct 2002 (16:12) #
(via my O'Reilly blog)

A month ago, I wrote about "TechnoPop: The Secret History of Technology and Pop Music", Rick Karr's series of reports running on NPR's Morning Edition. This morning I was listening to part 5 while driving to work, and I heard Karr say this:

Over the past decade, all this technology making modern music has gone digital.

Those of you as old as I am might recognize the middle of that sentence as a near quote from Rush's 1980 masterpiece, "The Spirit of Radio". That little touch put a big smile on my face.

Thanks to the magic of iPod, I had the song close at hand. So I popped my cassette adapter into the slot in the dashboard, plugged in my iPod, and had a listen. And I was struck by just how appropriate it was for Karr to quote from that song, which was a scathing attack on the music industry.

The first part of "TechnoPop" made a rather pointed reference to the current conflicts between the music industry and their customers (and, for that matter, the artists), and there've been hints that the series will come back to that issue in its final installment next week. So far, the series has covered the phonograph, microphones and electrical recording, magnetic tape, LPs, and multitracking. At each stage, the theme has been clear: technology inevitably changes not only music itself, but also the music business -- often over the protests of established players in the industry, but usually to the long-term benefit of the music industry as a whole.

One still likes to believe in the freedom of music, but even the illusion of integrity that Rush sang about has vanished. The gift of music that radio brings to us, far from being beyond price, seems firmly in its grip.