The Remainders in 1983

My old band, in it's only video appearance. This was the short-lived lineup that was missing guitarist Jim Moore, but he was represented as a songwriter. Here we see Bill Greenrose and Chris Wilson on guitars, Jerry Russell on drums, and me on bass.

Part 1: "No other man but me", written by me (if you don't count the fact that I stole the basic riff from Ray Charles):

Part 2: "Romance", written by Russell and Moore:

This video was made by Beth Ann Herrick at the Seton Hall University television studio. I haven't heard from Beth Ann in years -- maybe she'll do a vanity Google search and find this here.


George W covers R.E.M.

Okay, this video is some of the most brilliant editing work I've ever seen. I can only hope that some bonehead who may think they own a fraction of a second of some of the source material doesn't force it offline.


Cleaning keyboards

Random thought: Shouldn't computer keyboards have an on-off switch to tell the computer that it should ignore incoming input when I have to clean up after a spill?

This should probably be a Twitter post, but to be honest, I haven't quite committed to Twitter yet. This probably indelibly marks me as lagging behind the curve, but what the hell.


Thank you, Senator Dodd!

Democratic Senator and Presidential candidate Chris Dodd did something extraordinary today. He kept his word.

Dodd promised to use every means necessary, including filibuster, to prevent any FISA bill that included retroactive amnesty (for telecom companies that broke the law because the spooks asked nicely) from getting through the Senate. And when push came to shove today, he made sure he was at the Capitol instead of campaigning in Iowa, and started wading through all the procedural steps that Senators can't be bothered with anymore. Finally convinced that Dodd was as good as his word, Senate majority leader Harry Reid delayed the bill until January. A few other Senators were supportive, but this was Dodd's victory.

However, you'd never know it from reading the infotainment that passes for mainstream news these days. Check out CNN or anything else that Google News links to, and see how far down you have to read to see Dodd's name. It's depressing.

Mind you, I'm not a Dodd supporter. There are plenty of issues where Senator Dodd and I could have a knock-down-drag-out discussion. But dammit, the man kept his word, and all I can say is, "Thank you."

PS: Edward Kennedy was one of Dodd's supporters, and the man can still turn a phrase: "The President has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA. But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retro-active immunity. No immunity, no FISA bill. So if we take the President at his word, he's willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies."


Musical innovation: The Thummer

You may have seen a fascinating new MIDI controller called The Thummer before, but it's getting some more exposure now due to this WSJ article about it. I became aware of the article via a post on Richard Florida's Creative Class Exchange blog, and then I got into a great exchange in the comment thread with Jim Plamondon, the inventor of the Thummer. We touch on the history of musical keyboards, the benefit of standards, how best to encourage innovation, patents, and even music. Richard is quite indulgently letting us use his space for the conversation. Drop by and add your views.


I wish all CEOs were like this...

Whether you follow the business of tech or not (and from my New York mega-region viewpoint, I follow it only as a bemused observer), you will find the post to which I'm directing you to be incredibly entertaining. Real or fake? We report, you decide.

An Interview with the CEO of SixApart on the occasion of the Sale of LiveJournal.

(Via The Fishbowl. Brilliant.)


Faith in humanity

Watch the whole clip. You may get a little nervous, like you may be watching a train wreck and don't want to see.

Watch the whole clip.

(Via I'm Just Sayin')


The good sense of hacking lives on

Back in the days when you could leave your car unlocked in the driveway, and you could leave your Unix shell account unlocked on your server, the term hacker was a noble one. We keep trying to reclaim it from the identity thieves and 1337 skryptkiddi3s, but language is notoriously hard to manage in any purposeful way. Still, we haven't created a suitable new term for the concept, so any references to hacking in this post refer to the good kind.

What hackers do best is use the tools at hand in ways that were never intended by the providers of these tools. Smart providers revel in this. Idiot providers do all they can to prevent it. In the interest of promoting the smart providers, I'd like you to take a look at the latest version of brilliant hacking.

Mobile phones are getting pretty sophisticated. A lot of them now have accelerometers in them -- something that can detect movement. Of course, almost any mobile phone has a vibrator (steady, now), and virtually all of them have a speaker. Add in the fact that these three things can be controlled via software. A good hacker will look at this situation and ponder, "What can we do with these raw materials?" Well, some boffins in Glasgow (there's no better hacker than a Scots hacker) came up with a doozy. (Go ahead, click on doozy. Go read about it. This is how the internets are supposed to work.)

I never would have thought to combine those features in this way, but it's exquisitely hawesome. (Wil Wheaton taught me to spell awesome this way. Honestly, it's not my fault.)


Rocky the Flying Human

You have to see this video of people who actually fly the same way flying squirrels do. Watch the video here. (Via Doc Searls' Weblog)


Scoble's biggest fan

I thought this was interesting when it showed up on Facebook today...


Rolling Stone rock quiz

I got a 47 (Expert). There must be some better use of my memory cells, but there you go. Rolling Stone's Almost-Impossible Rock and Roll Quiz,


Must-read essay: Schneier's "The War on the Unexpected"

Bruce Schneier lives in an interesting middle ground between cryptography and journalism. This perspective gives his essays on security an uncommon and refreshing bias toward common sense. His latest, "The War on the Unexpected", should be required reading for every employee of the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA, not to mention every living soul in Boston.

Nothing I could add would help. Just click here and read for yourself.

Disclaimer: Bruce and I worked together briefly around the turn of the century. That fact doesn't make this essay any less brilliant. It's just why I always read his writings.


So the Series is set: Rockies vs Red Sox

I love October.

The baseball playoffs inevitably produce some of the most entertaining sports of the year. Of course, as an inveterate Yankees fan, I was disappointed by their first-round exit this year, but I never give up on the playoffs just because my team gets eliminated.

It's a given that, as a Yankees fan, I will root for anyone playing against the Red Sox. So I'm crushed yet again as Cleveland was eliminated tonight, but I have to say that watching Manny play the wall as if he were Yaz was entertaining. There's been some great plays in all the elimination rounds, and the Series should be a good one.

My prediction: Rockies in 5. The layoff wasn't long enough to derail the runaway train that Colorado is. At least I hope so.

Update: Obviously, not one of my better predictions. Much as I hate to admit it, Boston deserved the sweep. In the immortal words uttered by baseball fans the world over, "Wait'll next year!"


Things I've learned from bootlegs

The earlier the Led Zeppelin bootleg, the better. I'm listening to Heartbreaker from the 1970.03.21 Vancouver show at the moment.


R. I. P. Tommy Makem

One of my favorite musicians died yesterday. Tommy Makem was a familiar name to any fans of Irish music, and also to fans of the 1960s New York folk scene. His work with the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem redefined Irish music to the American audience. And you can be sure that if you've ever been in an Irish pub, you've heard someone sing the song "Four Green Fields", which Tommy wrote.

For more details, read his obituary in the New York Times. And then go find one of his records and listen for a while.

Of all the comrades e'er I had, they're sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts e'er I had , they wish me one more day to stay,
But since it falls unto my lot that I should go and you should not,
I'll gently rise and softly call, goodnight and joy be with you all.


Keith Olbermann rocks

I've seen a few of Olbermann's previous rants, and found them quite refreshing, especially when compared to the pablum that's fed to us by almost all television news outlets. This latest one, however, is required viewing for every American.


Deathly Hallows Eve

I'm sure I don't have to tell anyone that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be released to the public at midnight tomorrow. I will be bringing my 12-year-old daughter one last time to the midnight release party at Barnes and Noble, after which the whole family will be stealing the book back and forth as we try to all read it at the same time. And, yes, we all have color-coded bookmarks.

I'm also sure I don't have to tell anyone that the book is already available for illicit downloading, but apparently some brain-dead lawyers working for Scholastic Books think it is illegal to tell you that. Luckily, this blog, unlike TechCrunch, has such a miniscule audience that I am unlikely to attract a takedown notice. However, I do promise to post it if I get one.

In the meantime, the bonehead who posted the book did so by using his digital camera to photograph each page. For those of you who don't know, digital cameras embed information like the date and time the photograph was taken within the JPEG file that we all treat as the photo itself. The bonehead in question left all this information in the JPEG files that made up his Potter giveaway, even though one of the embedded data items is the serial number of the camera, and this may lead police right to said bonehead's door. (Via Boing Boing.)

Now, I probably wouldn't have posted any of this had I not followed Boing Boing's link to the TimesOnline story. Reading the story just made me want to rant: Journalism for Dummies at its finest, right from the headline that calls the metadata embedded in the JPEG files Digital DNA. But the most striking bit of misinformation was this:

"The Exif data is like the picture's DNA; you can't switch it off. Every image has it. Some software can be used to strip or edit the information, but you can't edit every field," Mr Solomon said.

I know we started with Harry Potter, but what are these, magic JPEG files? You can't edit every field? What if I convert it to a Windows BMP and then back to a JPEG, do the magic fields apparate into the new file? Is there a special enchantment that resists hex editors? I would suggest to Mr. Solomon, who is billed as a "product intelligence officer" from Canon UK (ye gods, even the job title makes me laugh), that he amend his comment to "you can't edit every field with the crapware we give you on the CD that comes with the camera".

Okay, end rant. I have to go plan my hiding spots for the book, and hope mine are better than my wife's and children's.

Accio wristband! (I hope that works at Barnes and Noble tomorrow.)


Producing music again

It's been a long time since I last produced any music in my basement studio. It usually takes some kind of catalyst to place me in the correct mindset. This time, it was twin catalysts.

The first was hearing from an old friend on classmates.com. Well, more than an old friend, truth be told. It was my high-school sweetheart. We had lost touch over the years, and it was wonderful catching up with her. I mentioned this to my old band mates, two of whom knew her and two of whom did not. I could quickly describe her to the other two by saying, "She's the one Times gone by is about." This was one of the first songs I wrote, and certainly the first one that didn't suck. Our band, the Remainders (who had the name long before Dave Barry) played Times gone by quite a bit. However, our one early attempt at recording the song never quite captured what I wanted.

The second catalyst was a disk crash. I take a long time to migrate from one Linux box to the next, and still had all my audio recording and mixing software on 'berkelium', a 600 MHz Dell Dimension that was a leftover from Lockstar, the dot-bomb I worked for around the turn of the millennium. Its disk crash finally forced me to finish my move to 'porky', a 2.6 GHz HP/Compaq that I picked up on eBay for a song. Playing around with ecasound, my favorite audio software, I discovered that jumping from 600 MHz to 2.6 GHz makes a big difference in what you can do.

So, Times gone by got re-recorded. I used Hydrogen for the basic drum track, but recorded everything else live. Ecasound is great for multitrack recording as well as mixing, and the fact that it supports LADSPA plugins allowed me to give the lead guitar a nice fake-Marshall sound.

Anyway, I put the track up on the Open Source Audio collection at archive.org, and you can listen to it or download it here.


The upcoming temporal anomaly

I was perusing James Randi's newsletter tonight, and saw his mention (via his friend Scot Morris) that we have one of those calendar-clock oddities coming up early this Sunday morning. A few minutes after 2 in the morning, it will be 02:03:04 05/06/07.

Well, I thought this was cool, and decided to share it with my 16-year-old son when he came in from hanging out with his friends. When I informed him of the interesting tidbit, he nodded appreciatively for about 2 seconds, and then said, "It will be much better just after 8 o'clock."

This stopped me cold. "Why?"

"Well, then it will be 05/06/07 08:09:10.111213... and you can go on as long as you want."

Mind you, this kid hates math. And this occurred to him immediately. As Jimmy Durante used to say, I'm stupified.


A large number

Thirteen undecillion, two hundred fifty-six decillion, two hundred seventy-eight nonillion, eight hundred eighty-seven octillion, nine hundred eighty-nine septillion, four hundred fifty-seven sextillion, six hundred fifty-one quintillion, eighteen quadrillion, eight hundred sixty-five trillion, nine hundred one billion, four hundred one million, seven hundred four thousand, six hundred forty.

Just another number. Pretty far up the ol' x-axis, but still an ordinary (and ordinal) integer.

Just don't express it in base 16.


Roger Ebert is my hero

For those of you who are unaware of what's going on in Roger Ebert's life, he is currently recovering from surgery to save him from cancer of the salivary gland that moved on to his jaw. There have been some complications that certainly don't affect his mind or his wit, but make him, well, unattractive. As Roger says in this great article he wrote after his surgery, "So let’s talk turkey. What will I look like? To paraphrase a line from 'Raging Bull,' I ain’t a pretty boy no more."

Go read the article. What it addresses is the fact that Roger has been advised not to attend his own Overlooked Film Festival due to what people might say about how he looks now. His answer boils down to, "Screw them. I'm going." He says this much more eloquently, and makes some excellent points in the article. Like I said, go read it.

I've always liked Ebert. I like him even more now.


Kurt Vonnegut: Breakfast of Champions Podcast - 92Y Blog - 92nd Street Y - New York, NY

To paraphrase from Deadeye Dick:

He had curly golden hair, and he had lost almost none of it when his peephole closed, when he was allowed to stop being Kurt Vonnegut, when he became just another wisp of undifferentiated nothingness again.

Listen: The 92nd Street Y has posted a wonderful podcast, featuring Vonnegut reading from the then-unpublished Breakfast of Champions on May 4, 1970. (So he must have been reading this at about the same time National Guardsmen were shooting at Kent State students. So it goes.)


Go Kodak!

This is the funniest commercial I've seen in twenty years. I'm telling you, this is the future of advertising.


Today I ripped: The Tremblers / Twice Nightly

To be precise, I pulled this one out of the stack of LP's a few weeks ago and ripped it, but finally finished the splitting and encoding tonight, so the post title isn't entirely inaccurate.

To the untrained eye, this is a typical album for the date-of-release (1980) -- decent power pop in the Nick Lowe vein. However, the lead singer might stir some earlier memories. The guy in the red shirt and pants on that cover is Peter Noone, famed in song and story as the lead singer of Herman's Hermits, the British Invasion version of Rodney Dangerfield, in that they get no respect. Justified to some extent, since the Hermits were quite callously manipulated by manager Mickey Most to maximize profits, but a close listen to any Hermits album reveals some nice rocking.

By 1980, Peter was a has-been at a far earlier age than anyone should be. Becoming a household name at 16 does that to you, I suppose. (16!?! My son is 16. Arrgh!) The Tremblers may have been his attempt for some credibility, but it sank without a trace as far as I know. Listening to it now, it's a shame that it did. Most songs are at least co-credited to Noone, and the band does a decent job with most. Peter still had a too-sweet voice for outright rocking, but it's not bad at all. And the band has to earn some points for the album's one cover song, Elvis Costello's Green Shirt.

I've always liked Noone, and the Hermits as well. I was exposed to them early on -- my older sister was a big fan, pasting pages from 16 Magazine on her wall, and playing 45's of A Must to Avoid and Dandy until we ALL knew the lyrics. That's probably why I bought this album when it came out. But it did get quite a few spins on the turntable on its own merits, and I'm glad it's digitized and part of my shuffle now.

In a bit of synchronicity, I had already started digitizing this album when I sat down to watch American Idol with my daughter the week that Peter Noone was a guest. It did make me feel a bit old when Liza Persky at Idol Critic had no idea who he was.


The impossibility of DRM: Russell's Law

"I ca'n't believe that!" said Alice.

"Ca'n't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said "one ca'n't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Back in the days of Bubble 1.0, I was a full-time cryptographic engineer. This meant that I had to know enough about cryptographic protocols to implement them in software without breaking them. This is not as easy as it sounds, which is why virtually all software packages have periodic security update patches. The companies I worked for at that time were typical Bubble 1.0 companies, which meant that they were trying to come up with the next "killer app", something that would cost us nothing to make and for which everyone would pay us gobs of money. So part of my job became explaining to various people why cryptographic protocols could not solve one problem or another. The most common recurring theme in these ideas for money-making crypto apps was copy protection -- preventing people from making digital copies of digital data.

I explained my reasons for thinking this to be an impossible task so many times that I had it boiled down to a single sentence: You cannot encrypt past the intended recipient. I even began to egotistically refer to it as Russell's Law. Originally, it referred to encrypted email, when someone suggested trying to enforce a "For Your Eyes Only" prohibition. This cannot be done with cryptography. If you can't trust the person who is supposed to be able to read your message, you're hosed. It seemed as obvious to me as the old saying: If an attacker has physical access to your computer, it's already compromised. (If anyone knows who first said this one, let me know.)

Fast forward to 2007, and the current debate about the merits of DRM (Digital Rights Management). (If you don't know what DRM is, you can read Wired's How to Explain DRM to Your Dad.) What's the point of DRM? It intends to prevent people from doing prohibited things with digital data after they have received it. It tries to do this via various cryptographic protocols. In other words, it's a violation of Russell's Law. It's trying to achieve the impossible.

Want proof? DVDs had an encryption method built into them, as an attempt to control in what part of the world each DVD could be viewed. That was defeated, by the intended recipients. The lesson learned from this by the Big Media Producers was that they needed bigger, better, stronger encryption for the next new standards, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD hi-resolution video discs. Guess what? Not long after release, those protocols were broken, too! Russell's Law is still just as valid as ever.

Much has been made of Steve Jobs' blogging where he makes a good case for abandonment of DRM, but it troubles me that he still talks as if DRM is something that can successfully be implemented. Much more interesting is the response from Macrovision, a DRM vendor. If you want to know why I quoted Lewis Carroll at the top, read this and imagine the Queen speaking to Alice. Better yet, read Daring Fireball's translation of Macrovision's response.

But the beat goes on -- Bill Gates probably understands the validity of Russell's Law, but Microsoft is still creating new DRM schemes. I'm sure this one, like all the others, will make money being sold to companies who believe six impossible things before breakfast. I'm also sure that it will be defeated, and quickly.


Today I ripped: Gordon Jenkins / Manhattan Tower

My first encounter with Gordon Jenkins was as a teenaged Harry Nilsson fan back in the '70s. Harry did something unheard of at the time, recording an album full of old standards like As Time Goes By and Makin' Whoopee, backed by a full orchestra. (Obviously, it's not unheard of now, but I don't think it's fair to blame Harry for Rod Stewart's indulgences.) The orchestra was conducted by Gordon Jenkins, who I later found out had an incredible career, working with Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, and many others. He also collaborated with the Weavers, most famously on Leadbelly's Goodnight, Irene.

Suffice it to say that over the years I have become suitably impressed by Gordon Jenkins. So, when I spotted an LP credited to him at a garage sale, I snapped it up. The album, pictured here, is Manhattan Tower and California: Two Musical Narratives (Decca DLP 8011). When I got around to listening to it as part of my vinyl digitization project, I found that the "musical narrative" form is something that reminds me a great deal of early Disney work -- musical motifs under a storyline narration, occasionally breaking into small choral or solo songs.

About halfway through the first narrative, though, I heard something very familiar -- the song New York's My Home, one I have always known through Ray Charles' rendition. Initially, I thought Jenkins must have incorporated it into the narrative. A bit of research (all right, Googling) leads me to believe, instead, that Manhattan Tower is, in fact, the original source of this song. The album itself is dated 1949, and the hit version of the song, by Sammy Davis, Jr., did not come out until the 1950s. And the credited author of the song, on both Davis' and Charles' versions, is Gordon Jenkins. So, finding the original version of it was a nice treat.

One side note: barring the discovery of some other forgotten, buried treasure, this album represents the oldest LP I own. As I mentioned, the copyright on this album is 1949, and according to Wikipedia, the LP was first introduced in 1948.


New blogging topic: Digitizing vinyl

I've been looking for something interesting to write about, as I while away my time digitizing my extensive collection of vinyl recordings (a. k. a. "records"). The small voice inside my head, which sounds astonishingly like the small voice inside Wil Wheaton's head, sez, "Duh! Blog about what you're doing!". True that. The Vinyl Digitization Obsession (VDO) process itself is fascinating, and quite blog-worthy.

I'll get into technical details later -- details most of you will probably hate, since I still find Linux, command-line utilities, and shell scripts to be my best friends when it comes to getting anything done on a computer. For the initial post on the topic, I'd like to ruminate on the pleasures I've discovered in the activity.

Ripping a CD is not really enjoyable, but it is fast. I thought at first that "ripping" my albums would be tedious, since it has to occur in real-time. But that has become its charm. I have been listening to albums that I haven't touched in ages. Reacquainting myself with music that defined me as a young man. (Those ones are kinda scratchy.) Discovering albums that I bought at the end of the vinyl bell-curve that never got played at all due to the overlapping start of the compact disc bell-curve.

As I slog through them, I've found quite a few that deserve wider recognition. That's where the blogworthiness comes in. (I'm not sure I spelled blogworthiness correctly, even though I'm reasonably certain I made the word up.) As certain LPs catch my ear, I'll note them in the blog.

As we speak, I'm digitizing John Lennon's Mind Games. I don't ever recall noticing before that the song Out the blue is such a blatant rewrite of Sexy Sadie. I guess John was lucky he didn't have the same music publisher that John Fogerty did.