RayRayon Topics

the fine fabric of the web

Software doesn't steal music, PEOPLE steal music

Posted Friday, August 20, 2004 6:20:37 AM by Ray

In a move that should cause gun control advocates to run screaming in horror, the 9th U.S. circuit court of appeals has ruled that the makers of file-sharing programs (specifically Grokster and StreamCast) are not legally liable for the songs, movies and other copyrighted works swapped online by their users. The difference between these services and Napster, which was found liable, is that the newer breed do not maintain any central listing that points users toward available copyrighted material.

On the one hand, this is great because peer-to-peer technology really does have some interesting potential aside from its most common use, which is creating federal fugitives out of 13 year old Clay Aiken fans. An opposite ruling could stifle the development of technologies that could be used nefariously, even if that was not their primary purpose.

But there's the thing... It remains pretty obvious to even the most uninterested casual observer that sharing copyrighted works for free is the primary purpose of these services as they exist today. But the court made use of the Betamax defense (Sony's original, better quality, but ultimately doomed VCR format) and clarified that it is only necessary to show that the product has the capability to perform some non-illegal task without taking into consideration the percentage of the time it is used for non-illegal purposes.

Interesting, considering we target gun manufacturers, refuse to consider medical use of drugs like marijuana, and blame rock and roll when our kids shoot up a cafeteria.

Category tags: On the Personal Side

Help me to forget today's pain...

Posted Thursday, August 19, 2004 3:24:09 PM by Ray

I love Dreamweaver. For working with ColdFusion, it is the best thing available to me as a programmer. Even though I spend most of my time in code view, I like being able to flip over to design view and place a table or edit text, so a dedicated text editor (even HomeSite) just doesn't do it for me.

But as a coder, there are some things I desperately need to help me work more efficiently. Seeing as DW got a healthy design and CSS makeover last time around, perhaps during this next cycle, Macromedia could spend some time bringing the code side of things up to par. Here is a partial list of what I need.

CFC Introspection - Once I have defined a CFC as an object, I want DW to be aware of it. It should know the properties and the functions that I have defined so that when I need to set or retrieve a value or call a function I can get a list of what is available by just typing objEmployer. and Code Completion will give me a list. I hate going back to remember what I called things when I have longs lists of properties and function within CFCs.

More Aware Code Completion - Ever make a typo and have to backup within, say, a ColdFusion tag? If you do, Dreamweaver seems to lose its place and can no longer provide you with the available attributes for the tag you are within. You end up having to go back and start over with the tag if you need the reference. If DW could remain aware of where it is within the tag structure, it would save me a ton of time.

Code Collapsing - Once a section of code is done, I don't want to have to look at it anymore as I move back and forth between parts of the page I am working on. The ability to collapse tags and functions significantly cleans up the landscape as you work and allows you to focus in on the parts that need your attention.

Split Screen Code View - Basically two code views that can be set to different parts of the page so I that I can refer to one section as I work on the other.

Stored Procedure Introspection - Akin to CFC Intropection, I would like for DW to know what arguments are needed for a Stored Procedure that I call and prompt me for them in the correct order.

An Option For Position Independence - Do I always want design view and code view looking at the same part of the page? Not always, and I would like the ability to check a box that causes them to position independently, so that I can reference one part of the design view (included the Properties inspector) while coding a separate part of the page and vice-versa.

Buttons for Server Selection - At the very beginning, in the early life of UltraDev, there were buttons, or icons to select Local, Remote, Testing instead of the current dropdown box. I want those buttons back. It might not seem like a big thing, but that extra click gets in my way constantly.

Dual Option Sources - I want to be able to identify both a Source Safe (or some other source control system) server AND a remote server so that I can work from one and, with one button, publish to the other.

Save Copy As... - Many times I contruct a page that will serve as the framework for several related pages in a section of the site. Not the kind of thing you would save as a template, just a set of consecutive pages within a form or enrollment part of a site that share a few common elements. I want to be able to use a Save Copy As... menu option to save that page with 2 or 3 other page names without changing the name or location of the page I am currently working on.

Some of these things are fairly straightforward, and believe me, I understand just how foundational some of these changes would end up being. I don't know if you have ever worked on the code for even a basic editor. I have, and it ain't a simple thing.

I am sure there are more. The next time IĀ open Dreamweaver and work on a few things, something else will pop into my head. Maybe it is something that would be useful to you as well, or maybe it is just my freak workflow that requires these things. Either way, make sure to let Macromedia know what you would like to see in upcoming versions of Dreamweaver. We can't gripe unless we speak up.

oo oo oooo Dreamweaver...

Category tags: Dreamweaver


Posted Tuesday, August 17, 2004 12:29:55 PM by Ray

Last month, RealNetworks announced that they had figured out how to allow songs downloaded from their online music service to play on Apple's iPod player while maintaining the copyright protection mechanisms that make these services viable. And today, they slashed the price of their entire library to .49 a song, with albums available for as little as $4.99.

First, let me say that today is the first day that I have ever purchased music online. I have a Rhapsody account (which I love) that allows me to listen to whatever I want while I work. But everything on my Karma is ripped directly from the CD in FLAC format. There is a HUGE difference in the quality compared to any lossy compression format. And when you compound the expected quality loss of the compression with the poor output of most headset players AND a crappy pair of headphones, it is almost not worth listening to anymore.

And ALL downloaded music is compressed. Whether as an MP3, or some proprietary format designed with rights management and file optimization in mind. Which is why I refuse to spend only marginally less for a downloaded copy than I can pay for the CD. The price differential does not make up for the difference in quality.

But for .49 a song and less than 5 bucks an album, there are some things that I would not mind having. I am not as much of a sonic snob as it probably sounds like. And there are things that I would like to listen to at the gym (which is what I call getting in and out of my lazy boy) or on a walk (to the fridge) that don't require the same level of detail (for any number of reasons). Finally, if only for a limited time, the actual difference in the product is reflected in the price.

So I started downloading a few things and started telling my friends about the deal. Almost to a person, their response was, "How long till Apple sues them over that?".

I don't know how long it will take. I know that Apple has already been griping about Real's practices and this may push them over the edge. You see, the iPOD can only play MP3s (ptui) and Apple's proprietary file format. That is what keeps iPOD owners dialed into iTunes. It is the only option they have. No WMA, OGG, FLAC, WAV... just what Apple wants them to have (in painfully ironic contrast to the 1984 Big Brother ad that launched the Mac in the first place). Until now...

Now iPOD owners have a choice... and a terrifically less expensive choice, at least for the time being. But, instead of Apple looking at this as a reason for more people to buy iPODs (one of the reasons I never would is this very limitation) they are likely to whine about how unfair it is that Real cracked into their private little world. And they will repeat the same mistakes that have kept them from dominating the PC industry in the first place.

And the worst part is, some Apple users are so brainwashed that they will likely WANT and EXPECT Apple to take action. Out of some twisted, economically agnostic loyalty to the white box with the feather touch dials, they will hope that Apple is successful at shouting down the mean giant so that their's can return to the exclusive, protected realm of those who have the extra money to spend on a perceived quality built on form before function.

So we will see how long it takes Steve Jobs to get his invisirim glasses all fogged up and start threatening to protect his company from success no matter what it costs. For the time being, I have some songs to download.

Category tags: On the Personal Side

Stick to the Script

Posted Monday, August 16, 2004 1:12:07 PM by Ray

If there is anything that local news reporters should NOT do, it is ad-lib. But what else can you expect when they try to provide hours and hours and hours and hours of continuous coverage during a hurricane. They can only say "Here it comes" and "saffer-simpson scale" so many times. So they start tripping over themselves trying to fill the time.

Here are a few of the best I heard over the weekend.

Anyone who tries to ride out this storm in a sailboat is facing a serious threat of loss of life or death.

I tell you Jim, it is as dark as night out here. (said at 11:00 pm)

It looks like this is going to be one of the most worstest storms we have seen in a long time.

You get so used to having electricity, you don't miss it until it is gone.


Category tags: On the Personal Side


Posted Monday, August 16, 2004 1:04:17 PM by Ray

Hurricane Charley blew through Orlando at about 9:00 Friday night. It was likely the roughest storm the area has seen to date with over 3 billion dollars in damage (just in our area).

At my house, we started getting squalls of rain and winds about 8:00. They only lasted about 10 minutes each and were here and gone in an instant. In between, it was dead still.

Around 9:00, the sky opened up and we started getting stronger and stronger winds. The rain was horizontal, and many of the trees were as well. At one point, my concrete block house shook for about 1 minute and I heard the characteristic freight train sound. About 2 blocks over, I found evidence that a tornado had hopped over my house and decimated my neighbor's.

There are huge trees uprooted everywhere. One we saw took almost the entire yard with it and the whole house is blocked by a huge vertical chunk of St. Augustine.

I had electricity back over the weekend, and just got phones back about 30 minutes ago. Some people here at the office do not yet have power, phones, or water and may not for several more days. This is the happiest I have seen them to be at work in a while, because the air conditioning works here.

But we are all safe. I do not personally know anyone who was injured, and that is amazing in itself.

Thank you for all of your thoughts. Please keep in mind all of the people (especially down south) who are nowhere near over this.


Category tags: On the Personal Side

Not a lot of options...

Posted Friday, August 13, 2004 7:57:41 AM by Ray

They said on the news this morning that anyone who chooses to ride out this storm on a sailboat faces serious threat of loss of life or death.

Sounds about right...

Category tags: On the Personal Side

Backing Up My Backups

Posted Thursday, August 12, 2004 3:37:37 PM by Ray

It is getting ready to storm here... bad. Two storms are converging on Florida, and that pretty much assures that at least one of them will hit Orlando. We are expecting pretty bad winds and lots of rain starting tomorrow. The power grids around here are pretty much held together with scotch tape, so it should be fun.

I have spent the day backing up my backups; making DVD copies of all of the sites I am responsible for, a few days worth of daily database backups, basically a whole bunch of redundant work, just in case. If things go bad here, those fancy backup arrays will do me no good if I do not have access to the drives that read them. I need a low(er) tech way to have quick access to important stuff.

DVD writers are so cheap now that it is easy to make monthly backups of just about every important file and have them in a couple of locations. Don't copy the program installation files themselves; that just eats up room and you should have the install disks anyway. Downloaded programs for which I do not have a CD are kept at an FTP site on a server somewhere far away so I can get to them.

I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I had to try and reproduce all of this stuff. So sure, I have pretty much wasted a good portion of the day, and in reality, the storm may not come as close as they are expecting. But a good set of backups just makes you sleep good at night.

Category tags: On the Personal Side

Sometimes you should leave well enough alone...

Posted Wednesday, August 11, 2004 2:24:32 PM by Ray

It was not too long ago that Napster and Grokster and Kazaa and WinMX were all the buzz. Peer-to-peer networking (a cool and useful innovation) was being used to steal music directly off the web at an alarming rate, we were told, sending the recording industry into a tailspin. Lawsuits ensued; TV campaigns campaigned; Metallica, long the champions of upstanding moral values, implored us not to make the next payment on their multi-million dollar mansions 17 cents more difficult to come up with.

It was an interesting phenomenon. For one thing, people with a usual paranoia about online security issues would gladly download the latest version of Grokster and risk adware, viruses, and prosecution all for the shot at a couple of free songs.

And that was the rub. For the most part, it was kind of hard to use these programs with any long term success. Connections were spotty, files were poorly labeled, quality was iffy, and it just flat took a long time to successfully amass any kind of library of songs. Sure, some people did it. But not the people with lives and jobs and money to buy CDs in the first place.

But the record companies were not going to hear of it. If there would be any distribution of recorded material online, they would control it and they would get paid (not a bad thing, mind you). So instead of allowing a tenuous network of file sharers to continue, the RIAA shut them down and proceeded to license their libraries to outlets like iTunes and Walmart... and more importantly to on-demand listening services like Rhapsody and the new and improved Napster. And consequently, they cleaned up the problems that existed with make-shift file sharing. No more poor quality, poorly labeled files on bad cable connections. Now you can get instant, reliable access to huge troves of recordings... and steal them with programs like Replay Music.

You see, the songs are still just 1s and 0s streaming across the wire, and if it enters your computer, it can be captured and stored. There are a couple of ways to do this, depending the on the source. One involves actually grabbing the digital information, but that can be difficult depending on how it is encoded. The other just records the output of your sound card to an MP3 or Wave file as it streams from the player. And it is smart enough to know the beginning and ending of the song and create ID3 tags from the player output.

The quality is OK. As good as most MP3 recordings are anyway (which is incredibly poor compared to the original in almost EVERY case, which is the best argument that the RIAA never really made). It really depends on the quality of your sound card, but a high end Sound Blaster or better captures a file more than adequate for casual listening. (disclaimer... I played with the demo version of Replay Music out of curiosity. I do not own it.)

So instead of solving their own problems, the recording industry really just solved the problems of the people trying to steal their product in the first place. Sometimes you should just leave well enough alone.

Category tags: On the Personal Side

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