Sunday, July 26, 2009

Attention: Users of iTunes or Windows Media Player

If you use iTunes or Windows Media Player you must do this simple thing immediately! Do not delay! Change the format you use to rip or download music to MP3! Do it now, while you're thinking about it. It's easy, it's one of the basic menu settings, and there's no downside to doing it. On the contrary, the downside is if you continue to use m4a format (standard on Apple and iTunes) or wma format in Windows Media Player is your music will non-portable, and hence will depend on the device you're using it on.

The reason to change it is, both systems will use MP3 without a care or hiccup! But neither of the proprietary systems will work with the other product line without major hassles. And most “third party” music software and hardware have problems with, variously, the two proprietary formats.

Remember when a band released their latest material, you'd just go down to the record store and buy their new album on vinyl? It would work on any record player you happened to play it on. No problem. Then came cassettes. Some people bought all new versions of their music, because tapes were more compact and didn't wear out as quickly, and with the right tape player you could play both sides continuously (those long blank spaces at the end of a tape could be a problem, but not too bad). Start replacing records with tapes.

Then they invented laser disks (did anyone actually buy those?), digital tapes (DAT's, which never took off in the US because the record industry passed laws to keep the manufacturers from creating effective recorders), followed closely by CD's. Then the iPod came out and the consumer period of music had finally arrived. With CD's, it's possible to rip a more or less perfect copy onto your computer that can be used in any number of convenient, fast, easy-access music playing programs. With the iPod and follow-on products, those copies (and any that you bought directly from the iTunes Store) could be squirted into an itty-bitty player that would hold the equivalent of a whole room full of vinyl records and which you could access and play with just a little thumb manipulation on the outside of the player. And the iTunes store freed us from having to buy the whole album if we only wanted to listen to one song. Billions heeded the call, and a whole new music market was born.

Enter my brother, who has owned several rooms full of music media at various times in his life. LP's, cassettes, CD's. He's serious about music. Now he's got a fairly new computer (a Dell Windows machine) and Windows Media Player running under Vista. And iTunes too, because that seemed like a good thing. He has an account at the iTunes Store, and he's got accounts at a bunch of other places as well. He was mystified (and miffed) when he canceled his subscription to Crescendo and all the hundreds of tracks of music he'd been buying for $24.95/month suddenly disappeared. WTF? You mean they just rent it to you? That even though you pay them and spend the time to download, the music never actually belongs to you? Now he's got his whole collection of CD's ripped and stored away on his hard drive. It gives those old songs some new life, because it's much easier to locate and play an obscure track on the computer than to try and find it in several floor-to-ceiling bookcase of CD cases that never quite get or stay organized. I pointed out that he was vulnerable to hard drive failure, and he got an external hard drive to back it all up. Great!

The problem now is if he decides to get an Apple laptop (that was something he was considering) that whole collection of (mostly) wma files, representing countless weekends of mindlessly ripping CD's, is useless. If he wants an iPod (he already has a Zune, which he won online from a Pepsi cap), he's out of luck as far as the 2500+ CD's he already ripped to wma. And all that problem would have been avoided completely if he'd just gone into the menus and set the rip format to mp3. There's no downside of that-- it's no slower, it's no less convenient, it's a simple change. And it's almost criminal that Microsoft (and Apple, which is also guilty of the same proprietary lock-in, in reverse) makes the default format the their own. For shame.

OK, enough with the babbling, here's the upshot: Change your music software to use MP3 for ripping and you won't have nearly as many problems down the road when the technology (or your listening, recording, organizing, or playing) devices change. It happens. A lot! Devices break, new tech comes along, you decide to get a Nano, or you win a Zune, or some software comes along with a sweet new interface, or you want to listen to stuff on your new netbook, or your new phone. Don't let the big tech companies trick you into proprietary file format lock-in. MP3 is an excellent portable format that works with almost everything. None of the other formats can say that.

That is all.

What's worse than killing babies?

The only thing that's worse (and it's way worse) than killing babies is preaching hate to drooling, schizo, idiots and selling them guns. I know no one who is zealously religious who isn't an idiot. Religion is stupid and violent and wrong. Drooling, Bible spewing feeble-minded idiots should not be able to purchase guns. Preaching hate speech to this moron should be the same in the eyes of the law as a bartender serving a multiple offender booze (or recruiting for Al Qaeda). Even if you're Fox News! And selling him a gun should be comparable to using the gun yourself. End of story.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Republicans' experts debate Obama energy policy

The GOP is pulling out all stops and calling on their most knowledgeable and deeply respected experts in the energy field to debate the administration's energy policy.
"Westerners literally sit on mountains of oil and gas" -- Sarah Palin
Heaven help us all!

But wait! No one seems to be noticing, or commenting, on the fact that Ms. Palin was so brutally and cavalierly betrayed by the power structure in her own party. The McCain campaign has been telling all-- about Palin's lack of polish or preparedness for high office, and about the shocking shopping sprees and endless and inescapable family issues. I stated before-- the GOP ditched Sarah at the prom. The current GOP power structure figured out they can't really stand her, and avoid her like the plague. The Republican party has melted down in a huge farce-- ethics gaffes among Senators and Governors, obstructionism to the point of paralysis in New York and California, infighting among the leadership (is the party led by Newt, or Rush, or Mr. Steele?), and a resounding rejection by a huge majority of voters at the national level-- to the point they no longer have any relevance to their core constituents. Could Sarah have quit the Alaska governorship in order to emerge in national conservative politics as Carrie (who was also mistreated at the prom)? Stay tuned, folks.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Walll Street Journal displays class prejudice

In the run up to the almost assured confirmation of Sonya Sotomayor as justice of the Supreme Court, there's been a lot of conservative barking and moaning and sobs. The right is very uncomfortable about her ethnicity, her liberalism, and her gender. One of the profound thinkers at Fox compared her to the Ku Klux Klan. These deep Solonic insights and pronouncements notwithstanding, most agree Ms. Sotomayor's chances of being confirmed in the Senate are virtually certain. At this point it's just a case of going through the motions of collecting the answers to questionnaires, submitting to some geriatric grunting and harrumphing from the Senators, and then counting the vote. Absent some forgotten or undiscovered skeleton in the closet (and it would have to be huge-- sex change? deserted children? religious extremism?), Sonya's safe to start shopping for black robes.

My thinking was about there yesterday-- that we were going to have a female Hispanic supreme court judge, and it didn't seem like a bad thing. And then I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal, written by someone named Peter A. Brown, which came as close as I've heard to raising a class objection to Ms. Sotomayor's nomination. A CLASS objection! Mr. Brown, it's 2009 for fucks sake!

The objection raised by Mr. Brown-- and by extension by the Wall Streeet Journal-- in a nutshell is she may be unqualified because she's not richer! The fact that Ms. Sotomayor has and does hold high-visibility posts on the boards of more than one organization that effects community empowerment, outreach, and support seems not to hold much sway among the plutocrats. Law degrees from not one but two Ivy League universities aren't enough! What irks Mr. Brown is she didn't become a millionaire when she was a partner in a powerful New York law firm. Instead of squirrelling away every nickel of her substantial (and guaranteed lifelong) salary into investments in the likes of privatized prisons and Blackwater, Inc. and Chevron Oil, this poor deluded woman seems to have squandered it all on nice clothing and dental bills, paying her mortgage, donating to community causes, and supporting her Mom. She probably tips well. And the article all but comes out and says this reprehensible behavior should disqualify her from ruling on cases involving corporations and business in general, and hence from serving on the Supreme Court at all. How can someone who shows no obvious signs of rapacious greed and avarice be qualified to fairly handle the delicate affairs of litigants whose only reason for existence is greed?

Folks, this is the face of the class war. Take whichever side you like. But please don't just sit by and accept it. This article is repulsive, and wrong.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Is it just my myopic view?

Is it just my myopic view, or is the Republican Party coming apart? Doesn't it look like Republican Senators are showing their hypocricy and inability to adhere to their own standards? And now their poster child in the feminine gender, the Barracuda from Wasilla, is dropping her sole position of responsibility. There's tongue-wagging going on at the New York Times (and elsewhere) that she's doing it in a Nixon-esque attempt to step out of the spotlight in order to work on her assault on the Presidency in 2012.

I might explain her move another way. This week in Vanity Fair there was an article that came from sources pretty close to the McCain campaign, which pointed out the political functionaries' views that Ms. Palin is incompetent, inexperienced, and kind of a basket case in tough political situations. Add to that her working class abrasiveness and reluctance to back down from even a losing fight (like the recent name-calling spat with David Letterman), and it's obvious the GOP can't wash their hands of her quickly enough. And when she turns to her heroes in the GOP Social Conservative camp to see who'll defend her honor, she finds she's only got the likes of Newt "Sotomayor is the KKK" Gingrich, Larry "Wide Stance" Craig, Alan "Hiking the Appalachian Trail to Argentina" Sanford, and "Promise Keepers" Ensign, and the afore-mentioned McCain camp, who have already sold her out and thrown her to the sharks.

Didn't McCain promise to defend her last year after the "lipstick on a pig" remark from the Obama campaign? I believe Ms. Palin is planning to disappear into the obscurity of small-town Alaska politics, or maybe just disappear from the public eye altogether, because she's seen the corruption, veniality, and empty-headed sanctimony of her "tribe' and realizes she doesn't want anything to do with those opportunistic dweebs. They ditched her at the prom! You almost have to feel bad for her. Except that she'll probably make a lot of money writing and lecturing. I hope she tells the truth about her foray into mainstream Republicanism, because it could bring about the end of the GOP as we know it. They're done for. And they should watch out for Todd, who hunts.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Theism is a drug

It occurs to me that theism is a dangerous and very addictive drug that afflicts a huge number of people, has done so for centuries, and wreaks havoc on lives, families, communities, cultures, and civilization. A major portion of the truly evil acts that have been perpetrated by people throughout history were religiously motivated. And that situation is not getting better-- it's getting worse.

Like a drug addict, the theist can not be trusted, cannot be relied upon, and basically can't return to rationality. Once they've posited an all-knowing, all-powerful entity who created and inhabits and controls all of the universe there's no way to retrieve their mind to useful constructive patterns. Once you've crossed the line and allowed the first supernatural belief, the rest come easier. Three steps away from the awe inspired by a starry night, lies the murder of gynecologists, invasion of Iraq, beatings, and burnings, and beheadings, and eventually, I assume, the end of the world-- because when some idiot in the White House or elsewhere finally pushes the doomsday button, they will be motivated to that insanity by some other-worldly, supernatural, and apocalyptic idea that to end all civilization is better than to live under the "wrong" brand of God. Theism destroys because irrationality destroys.

It's all ridiculously stupid, and it can be avoided. We need 12 step programs to wean people away from the easy abdication of reason to theism. We need to stop allowing our society's institutions to enable them-- no more religion on TV, no more tax exemption for churches, no more sanctimonious religious observances to accompany official public ceremonies. No more "in god we trust," because the very appearance of the name of god should be an indicator of ignorance and irrationality. Religiously motivated crime should be doubly punished, just as a crime committed in the process of feeding a drug habit is doubly punished. Unfrock the pushers of irrationality wherever they speak. I'm serious here.