my recent reads..

iTunes and DRM - Destroy Real Music

Ignatius Low gets nostalgic over music in it's physical form in an article for The Straits Times today (I still want a CD I can hold - Feb 3, 2008 - article is only available to online archive subscribers. ST hasn't quite caught up with the NYT yet!).

ABOUT a month ago, I made my first purchase from the Apple iTunes Store. It was a tedious and deliberate process, given that the iTunes Store hasn't been launched in Singapore yet, but it had to be done..

He goes on to question what would be lost if the world does move wholesale to digital downloads .. nostaligic memories of browsing for music with friends in the local record shop .. the personal stories forever tied to each CD or LP on your shelf.

Travelling and the Real Music Store Experience
Thankfully, we haven't totally lost the music store experience yet, although it is dominated by the major chains like HMV. I hope we never lose it. It would deprive me of one of the most enjoyable travel activities - whenever in a new city, I always try to make time for a few hours at a local music store to browse and buy. It is a great way to get a lock on the local music culture and discover some amazing artists.

DRM - The Worst Idea Ever Foistered on the Music Industry
There is a more insidious side to the whole digital download approach to purchasing music. Its called DRM - Digital Rights Management (or Destroy Real Music if you prefer). Still in use for most music on iTunes, DRM restricts your use to iTunes and iPod, and you only get 5 chances to register with another computer (like if you re-install or upgrade). Apple of course are not exactly forthright in telling you all this, prefering to regale you with all the benefits of digital downloads.

To make a LOTR analogy, its as if DRM is the poison holding Théodred under the spell of the wicked Wormtongue (read RIAA).

When I look at my record collection, I see the albums I inherited from my parents - even grandparents - and remember the thrill of exploring and learning to appreciate all this old and unusual music. I was the new generation rediscovering the musical gems of my elders, and I think a critical step towards musical maturity. It is how I found a place in my collection for Les Paul & Mary Ford, Duke Ellington and Fats Domino along side Iron Maiden, Madonna and Regurgitator.

If DRM and digital downloads become the way of the future, then this is one formative experience I will be unable to bequeath to any grandchildren I may be lucky enough to have.

The Dawn of a DRM-free Golden Age?
Thankfully, DRM seems to be on the way out - at least for music if not movies for the time being. And anyone who really cares about music should add their strength to kill it good and proper as soon as possible. EMI were perhaps the first major label to signal the trend, and break away from Wormtongue's spell.

The EMI move significantly bolstered Amazon's move on itunes with their DRM-free MP3 store (although in a perverse turn of logic, I can order physical CDs from Amazon yet because I live in Singapore I still cannot purchase their mp3 download versions. Go figure!)

Amazon's move was likely no insignificant factor in Apple now moving to dump DRM in their new iTunes Plus service (probably more correctly called iTunes Minus). Aple are still extremely coy in telling their users what's really going on (try searching for DRM on the iTunes site). I think it is scandalous how little information is provided to iTunes users about the DRM restrictions that are still applied to the majority of songs you can purchase on iTunes.

To put it simply: beware!
  • When you purchase music on iTunes, it is still DRM-locked, unless you are clearly given the iTunes Plus purchase option.
  • If you buy DRM-locked music on iTunes which is later made available unlocked in iTunes Plus, you can upgrade but you will have to pay for the privilege of getting you music purchases switched over (currently 40c per song or 30% of the album price)

Personally, I plan to stick to purchasing CDs, especially with so many available today at a nice price (like S$11.95 and up for recent chart albums). When amazon finally make the mp3 store available to me, I'll probably use that for the odd purchase (especially for individual tracks).

But iTunes? Sorry Apple. I love your iPods, but your support for DRM leaves such a bad taste that even now that you are reforming I will run a mile before willingly purchasing from your store.
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One Night At The Call Centre

I had the chance to participate in a focus group for the NLB, and as a bonus got a book voucher to put to good use. Within a few minutes of walking into a bookshop, Chetan Bhagat's One Night At The Call Center caught my eye and was immediately locked-in as a purchase.

This is a refreshing read. In one night we meet Shyam and his call center collegues as they each face life: from a plagiaristic, useless boss who can't hold a real conversation with out using MBA jargon .. arranged marriages gone wrong .. manipulative mothers .. and a job that pays just well enough to suck you in and seduce you into giving up your dreams. It would easy to be cynical like Varun (Vroom):
We get paid well, fifteen thousand a month. Fuck, that's almost twleve dollars a day. Wow, I make as much a day as a US burger boy makes in two hours. Not bad for my college degree. Not bad at all

But this is really a book about hope, and what you are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of a better life. It's a story that transcends culture.

Near the end of the book, there's a self-referential discussion of which of two versions of a critical scene should have been used [don't worry, you'll understand how that makes sense when you read the book]. My only criticism of the book is that I think the author choses the wrong version! But it works well enough to not be a major detraction.

All up, a very good read. Highly recommended! I don't think you need to be into IT, outsourcing or Indian culture to "get it"; this is a book anyone would enjoy.

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JDeveloper Filter Add-in Now on Sourceforge

I introduced the JDeveloper IDE External Filter Add-in project last weekend. Happy to announce that the project's registration on sourceforge is complete, so full source and downloads are now available from the sourceforge jdevfilter project page.
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Tux gets his break with OS/2

Staying with my OS/2 reminiscence for a moment, there's a trove of old gems up on YouTube (including the famous quote from Bill "we believe OS/2 is the platform for the 90's").

While IBM ads in the US defied the limits of corny, in Japan it is all so kawaii.

Of course! The correct way to market an operating system is with a TV star/model (Yamaguchi Tomoko 山口智子), a bear and a penguin.

At least we know what Tux was up to before he got his big break with Linux in 96...taking gigs playing "DOS" and living it up in Ropongi!

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