A bipartisan group is pushing new federal legislation that would chip away at the worst abuses of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act--the law often cited by the Recording Industry Antichrist of America in its "legal" campaign against consumers. The Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act, also known as the Fair Use Act, is sponsored by Reps. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and John Doolittle (R-CA). It would allow audiovisual compilations for classroom use, commercial skipping, home networking, library archiving, and access to works in the public domain or those "of substantial public interest solely for purposes of criticism, comment, news, reporting, scholarship, or research." It would also give manufacturers some wiggle room, eliminating statutory damages for those who unwittingly aid others who commit copyright infringement, and shoring up the 1984 Betamax Decision by sanctioning devices "capable of substantial, commercially-significant non-infringing use." Critics say the bill does not go as far as Boucher's attempts in previous legislative seasons. They point out that while the acts listed above are sanctioned, the tools that perform them are not. The RIAA condemned the bill claiming it would "repeal the DMCA and legalize hacking." And the Consumer Electronics Association praised it, saying it would "reinforce the historical fair use protections" of existing law.
A product as wildly successful as the iPod inevitably produces a few bad Apples. Anecdotal evidence of consumer unhappiness like this British newspaper report are common. Then again, so is evidence of consumer happiness, as in my torture test of an iPod case—the nano inside it survived repeated abuse. The only reports that should be taken seriously are those involving enough people to be statistically meaningful. That's why this survey from MacInTouch is compelling, if not exactly conclusive. It covers more than 4000 users and nearly 9000 iPods in the field. Please note that the methodology is loose. Among other things, it doesn't factor in time, and you know everything fails eventually. The good news for nano owners is that flash-based players, not surprisingly, are more reliable. In fact I'm rather pleased to discover my 2GB nano is twice as reliable as the 4GB (now I can stop feeling inferior). The bad news is that hard-drive players are more failure-prone, though the newer video models do quite well. The good news about the bad news is that the hard drive may be not dead but merely disconnected. For safety reasons, our lawyers would probably have me add, have a qualified service person do the work.
Consumers junk millions of remote controls each year. But 20 percent of remotes deemed defective can be returned to service with a simple reset routine, according to MrRemoteControls.com. Here are the instructions verbatim:
What would happen if David Letterman came onstage to do his opening monologue but nothing came out of his mouth? What if the stars of the silver screen had to improvise all their dialogue--would someone like Tom Cruise even have a career? Now you may have an inkling of what TV and screenwriters contribute to popular entertainment. And that's why the strike of the Writers Guild of America matters. They're looking for a bigger cut of burgeoning DVD revenues and growing Internet revenues. Peopling the picket lines in New York this week were Seth Myers, the Weekend Update coanchor and head writer of Saturday Night Live, and his predecessor Tina Fey, now of 30 Rock. The most recent SNL telecast included a hilarious skit with Fred Armisen posing as an overpaid studio executive. Jay Leno has contributed a sound bite supporting his writers and Letterman describes the producers as "cowards, cutthroats, and weasels." But Jon Stewart of The Daily Show is really putting his money where his mouth is. He is personally paying the salaries of his writers for the duration of the strike. These folks know on which side their bread is buttered.
While we await the news from today's Apple event, I'd like to toss out an observation connected to a yet-to-be-published review. This may be the first such piece in a continuing series. Or not. You never know.
What struck me about the Pioneer VSX-1021-K ($549) is the way it accommodates both push and pull of iTunes content via AirPlay. You can push content from computers or portable iDevices into the receiver. The receiver will even turn itself on and select the appropriate input. But it can also pull content from other router-connected devices using DLNA.
This is the second installment of In Progress, an occasional series on noteworthy things about products under review.
Are you plagued by doubts about the iThing compatibility of a prospective surround receiver purchase? If you're actually inspecting a carton in one of those old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores, Sony has the solution. Its STR-DN1020 ($500) lists every iDevice with which it's compatible right on the top of the carton! Complete with little graphic representations, no less. Since our 600-pixels-wide image may not be entirely legible, we'll list them below.
For a band that steadfastly denies its existence, Pink Floyd sure manages to keep the product coming. I've been spending time with Nick Mason's 2004 book Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, now updated to include a postscript about last year's miraculous reunion gig. Although he acknowledges having had a good editor, Mason really knows how to tell a story and does so with enormous wit and candor. Pink Floyd's rise from London's psychedelic underground to international megastardom would be great material for any writer—I couldn't put it down and ended up killing a whole weekend. A three-CD audio book read by the author is also available albeit hard to find. The 1994 concert video Pulse will be reissued in September as a double DVD extravaganza. The reunion is already available on the five-disc Live 8 DVD set. David Gilmour's 2002 In Concert DVD is extraordinarily beautiful. His third solo album On an Islandcame out yesterday and he's touring this year to support it. Roger Waters now has a whole opera, a Ira, to his credit. He has two albums in the works and is also touring this year.
Recent ruminations over the contents of my rack have given short shrift to a major player. A disc player, in fact--the Integra DPS-10.5. It has long served as the main signal source in my reference system. Occasionally I make a note to that effect in reviews but I've never really done justice to the Integra. Let's remedy that now.
There are a lot of internet radio stations but not many internet radios. Even as smart a player as Tivoli Audio had to pull back on introducing one, after Tom DeVesto and crew discovered how difficult it is to design a compact internet radio that operates with the same plug-and-plug simplicity as the company's other products. Well, the Tivoli NetWorks is finally here. It's the same shape as the PAL radio but comes in a wooden enclosure (walnut, cherry, or wenge) like the Model One and some other Tivolis. It accesses both internet radio stations and the contents of a PC's hard drive via either wi-fi or ethernet connections. The only control is a round button at the top. Pressing and holding it turns the unit on or off; pressing it quickly mutes the radio; rotating it adjusts volume. Hardest thing you'll need to do is input the password for a secured wi-fi connection. The unit is shipped with five of Tom's favorite stations already selected as presets though you can change them. It is available with or without digital FM tuner. At $600 for the tunerless model, NetWorks is not cheap, but the development must have cost a fortune. See video and press release.
David D. Holmes, inventor of what are now known as the SMPTE color bars, died recently at age 80. Holmes got his masters at MIT, worked on the first car transistor radio, and taught at the University of Nebraska before moving on in 1950 to RCA Labs in Princeton, New Jersey. In those days, RCA was not just a Franco-Chinese TV brand but a technology powerhouse. On arriving at RCA Labs, Holmes found "the people were using test signals from scanned slides which were dreadful, full of noise and other junk. Having nothing to do, I went back to my new lab and built an electronic test signal generator, now known as the Color Bar Generator. This was easy for me to do since I had designed and built a complete TV studio at U. of Nebraska and a lot of the stuff in the color bar generator was similar to parts of that. Well, my new device was a great hit; everybody wanted one so when my boss got back from vacation we were having six built in the model shop. They were big things, having fifty tubes and a bunch of adjustments in them." Sharing the 1953 patent with David Larky of RCA, Holmes remained at the lab for 25 years. His son John relates: "The picture above shows the spinnaker he had made for his sailboat. He set me afloat
in a dinghy when I was about 12 to take that shot of the spinnaker flying in Chesapeake Bay." See VideoUniversity.com for Hal Landen's color bar tutorial, obit of Holmes, and followup, with correspondence from both father and son.
In response to anecdotal evidence of iPod longevity problems, an Apple spokesperson recently insisted the popular music player is designed to last "four years." No...wait...stop the presses! She actually meant to say "for years"! Well, that's much clearer, isn't it? In other iPod-related news, the French Constitutional Council has struck down parts of an already loophole-ridden law that would have kinda sorta required all music downloads to operate on all devices. The council's job is to examine laws passed by both houses of the French paraliament and assess their constitutionality, like a preemptive Supreme Court. According to the council, parts of the law interfere with property protections under France's 1789 Declaration of Human Rights. Stop the presses again: DRM is a human right. Interesting. However, the law was already so toothless as to be useless, so I consider this a non-story.
Complaints about scratched iPod nanos are giving way to solutions from Apple and other parties. First there are those three Apple-branded iPod cases in Italian leather. Tug a little ribbon and your iPod slides out gracefully. Cases are available for the 60GB, 30GB, and nano. The $99 pricetag may raise an eyebrow among the hoi i-polloi but clearly Apple is lunging for the carriage trade here. Meanwhile NYC retailer J&R is selling iPod nanos that have been put through a custom hardening procedure described this way: "Each custom colored iPod goes through a thorough process of cleaning, painting, protection and curing before it is ready for use. The protection comprises of the unique X2 scratch resistant liquid plastic coating. It's applied right after the painting process and cured with ultraviolet light, to achieve superior scratch resistance and clarity. The final product has a finish that won't fade or crack!" The price for a treated 2GB nano is $265 or $66 more than list.
Nearly lost amid the details of Apple's latest iPod launch a couple of weeks ago was something that will matter to fans of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and what old folks refer to as "side two" of the Beatles' Abbey Road. These classic-rock chestnuts consist of songs that flow together. But when you rip the CDs, iTunes separates the songs into separate tracks, and the iPod plays them with gaps. The gaps are brief but they interrupt the flow, destroy the mood. The solution? What Apple calls Gapless Playback is supported by iTunes 7 along with second-generation iPod nanos (shown, in new colors) and fifth-generation iPods. It will work with MP3 files as well as the AAC and Apple Lossless file formats. Use of the crossfade feature may interfere with Gapless Playback—see Apple's tutorial for details. Gapless Playback will also be a boon to classical music listeners. When the scherzo of Beethoven's Fifth gives way to the tumultuous final movement, there will be no jarring stop. The iPod has just gotten a little smarter.
What makes the iPod nano (PRODUCT) RED Special Edition so special? Besides the odd use of caps and parentheses? Well, it's red, and though we've seen that before, it's nice to see it again. That brings the nano color roster up to six along with "silver" (formerly white), black, lime, sky blue, and pink. The price is $199, the capacity 4GB (if you want 8GB, you'll have to settle for black). And all second-generation nanos have battery life of 24 hours, an improvement that should please even the most jaded observer. But the headline-grabber is that for every iPn(P)RSE purchased, Apple will donate $10 to the Global Fund, sending much needed medication to AIDS victims in Africa. Guilty conscience? You can also support the Join Red campaign by purchasing a Motorola cell phone, American Express red card, Gap T-shirt, or Emporio Armani watch. Holiday shoppers: Don't forget to load up on iPod accessories.