Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, January 15, 2007

An Apple® a Day

I've gone and done it. I've slipped over to the other side.

No, I haven't ordered a new Mac G5 quad core processing super computer with 30" Cinema display, (retail $4,500.00 at your friendly Apple website). I might like such a thing, should I ever have the time to want to compose symphonies by ear or make full length movies. (Actually, I'm hearing that many long time pros in graphics and such return to PCs, irritated by the Apple's smug, patronizing insistence of doing things their way)

Still, the minimalist art that is Apple product is almost worth it.

No I haven't given up on my PC, though it clearly has bus or memory issues. In a way, I have taken a bolder step.

I have laid the hint for and received for Christmas an iPod 4G nano. In authentic Apple brushed aluminum, no loud colors for this one.

This is radical departure for me into the world of compressed audio. Compressed audio, and we'll resist getting too technical here, is cramming digital music into smaller files. All those ups and downs on a sound wave require a lot of digital bits to reproduce. Stereo is recoded onto computers at a rate of 1.5 or so megabits a second. That's 11 megabytes a minute, times two tracks for stereo. For Take a Pebble, by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, that's about 275 MG. That's a lot of storage and download time, even as capacity and bandwith explode.

But, you don't have to describe every pixel in a digital photograph (bitmap)--you can use language to describe what is happening to sections of information (JPEG). This can be done to music. Think of a football field marked off in a grid. To describe a diagonal move, you could say "He moved from (x,y) to (x+1,y+1) to (x+2,y+2)," and so forth, but you can see that this would entail a lot of writing. Or you could say (and I'm not much of a mathematician any more, so you won't get a trigonometric formula for this) "He started at (x,y) and moved one yard right and one yard up forty times. One of two of the moves were only a half a yard, but don't worry about it." This is kinda the idea, along with many other kinds of prediction and analysis.

Hey, I said I wasn't going to get too technical! The gist is, stuff like MP3 was invented to address transfer and storage issues, and became further popular because CD players don't work so well in a portable environment. Digital tape, without compression (any more than in CDs, anyway), suffers from the same mechanical limitations as any tape format. It has to be wound to the correct position. Before current capability, DAT tape was a stalwart for home studios, and many stand by their trusty old ADAT recorders, a great machine that terrified the music industry with it's CD quality reproduction. Affordable hard drive recorders (like your Tivo) and CD burners have made DAT obsolete. I actually have machines of a competitor format to DAT called DCC. These machines are extremely rare, and may be quite valuable one day. Until recently, I still used my portable DCC player and wired headphones to exercise. You can't carry it on a Nordic Trac, it will skip and it's too heavy. And you have to make those tapes, an entire new one for variety. I would have switched to the improved variety and portability of a good MP3 player except for one thing. MP3 sounds like crap, especially in the higher ranges. Cymbals hiss. Rock has lots and lots of symbols, and this quality is unacceptable to any serious listener, no matter how conveniently produced.

Then comes Apple's ACC format. Forget about it. Put all 600 CDs on 36 GB of your hard drive, back them up off site, and you have a permanent, instantly accessible and programmable music collection that is virtually indistinguishable in quality from CD. It's that good. Be sure, in preferences, to set error correction on to eliminate pops and clicks that imperfections on your CD might cause before embarking on this monumental task. (Apple not making a big huge point of this not being the default is as every bit as dense as Windows not having the firewall on by default)

And then iTunes exports whatever you like (more or less) to the credit card sized iPod nano. (such blatant disregard for things like capitalization is what causes bloggers to enter amorphous blobs of comments that glaze the eyes, as if they were the first e e cummings ever) I have no interest in the larger, video displaying unit, I have enough hobbies for now. From the main library, you drag and drop to new lists, as I have one for general exercise, and then subsets of that for tempos suitable to the Nordic Trac and the slightly slower stepper. iTunes automatically updates changes to the lists you would like to keep updated on the iPod. Perfect. It will shuffle the songs on demand--you don't know what's coming next, a fantastic feature, especially in an exercise mode, where one needs all the non-monotony one can get.

When one selects shuffle, however, the player shuffles all the songs in the iPod, and starts playing them all. You have to back out of that and select the playlist you want, which will be shuffled, though not visibly. It's a little confusing.

It keep photos, and iTunes will download my favorite Public Radio shows like a Tivo, and all and all it's pretty cool. Stuff is coming soon that does all this and takes pictures (good ones) and telephone and internet and god knows what else, but I think I'll be using this little sucker for a while.

Here's a look at my Nordic Trac list for now:

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Sac à Merde

I don't watch much opinion laden television these days, but, one aspect of my self-improvement meander is to get to bed at a decent time, and so I found myself having been awake for two hours at 6:00 am and resorting to some semblance of entertainment that doesn't involve the eye strain of another sudoku marathon. Hence the Imus show, and the unpleasantness of an interview with John McCain, heir apparent to the Imperial Throne. That's he, on his high horse. When he gets a little crazy, it's pretty hard to tell him from Bush the Lesser, isn't it?

His screed? Damn the torpedoes, and full speed ahead. Oh, he knows there is chaos in Iraq. And he's aware that Afghanistan is worse than when we found it. He knows better than you or I, he has better sources. Yet he shills the absurdity that 20% more troops might turn chaos into security―might tip the scale toward victory, as if the balance of human survival might swing on such a fractional effort.

You might be tempted to attribute McCain's escalatory attitude to a political manouvre―a ploy for consolidation of all those who would rather sacrifice a few thousand more lives than to accept that we might have made an error in Iraq, and there is no doubt that McCain is ready to parade his lightning steed right down the center of Main Street to invigorate those bastards. But to attribute such a position to mere pragmatism, despicable as such a possibility may be, falls dangerously short.

McCain's apparent blindness isn't Presidential fever. His infection is militarism. He started this morning's interview with a discussion of his favorite Herman Wouk and Hemingway novels. This is how it is with warriors, who tire quickly of peaceful scenarios. Even their recreation must be steeped in the gloriousness of soldiering. Though he dusted off the old saw, "We must learn from our history, or we are doomed...," he clearly is just reveling in the heroic, rather than absorbing the big picture.

The reality is that Napoleon met his Waterloo, Hitler his Stalingrad, Hannibal his Metaurus, and Harold K Johnson his Tet offensive. Invasions are expensive, messy and, if of any ambitious scope, generally (so to speak) unsustainable. How can McCain miss that point?

Yet he drones on about the preposterous goal of a Vichy Iraq, as if he'd never seen Casablanca. Is he dissembling? Yes. But the truly frightening aspect of all this is that he believes himself, in spite of the evidence. It's irrational. Delusional. He is a dog of war.

And this is what passes for sensibility in such a mindset:

When I was a young man, and all glory was self-glory, I responded aggressively and often irresponsibly to anyone who questioned my honor. I still remember how zealously a boy would attend the needs of his self-respect. But as I grew older, and the challenges to my self-respect became more varied and difficult, I was surprised to discover that while my sense of honor had matured, its defense mattered even more to me than it did when I believed that honor was such a frail thing that any empty challenge could threaten it.

The courage of the living and the dead taught me that. They taught me to dread dishonor above all other injuries. They taught me to be afraid of shame.

The Honor. After all the strategic analysis, punditry and positioning is through, the argument of the aggressor always comes down to this stalwart. The point is not the debilitating effect on a society that endures or wages war. It's not that the loss of young men and women is a tragedy. No, the point is that this loss might become a shame.

The Honor and the Glory. I don't intend to diminish the heroism of the defender. This is important illumination of those selfless deeds.

But let's not be unwary of those who might be staring into that sun a bit too intently.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Rising Sun Never Sleeps, or Sets, or something

In 1941, Japan, with rather insane delusions of grandeur, decided to attack the United States. As we had a gazillion times the industrial capacity of Japan, the numbers eventually caught up with them. They also found it a bit difficult to occupy every stinking island in the Pacific, like so many other forces that have found occupation impossible. (yet this lesson remains unlearned somehow, most recently in Iraq)

So they lost. But they never gave up.

Wave after wave continues to assault our shores to this day. Oh, sure, at first the devastating defeat took it's toll on their output, and the best they could muster was the export of millions of cheaply made tin toys, the sharp edges of which were responsible for merely thousands and thousands of sliced American youths' fingers. But they got better.

The 50s turned into the 60s and the siege took a more sinister turn with the export of the transistor radio, and we became slaves to our media. Great big chunks of our sanity began to fall off as there was no longer any escape. Not the woods, Not the beach, Certainly not the subway. Sonic frazzlement became the order to this day, the latest circuit board wizardry being responsible for the chirp chirp of walkie talkie telephony, not to mention the jolting launches of hideously mechanized ringtone versions of Für Elise whenever someone's "bud" wants to know "are you, like, busy or something"?

Having learned how to distract us, in the 70s they went for the throat, in the forms of Datsun (Nissan, for you younger folk) and Toyota. Entire industrial cities were laid waste, as the sluggish American auto industry struggled to respond to the Toyota Celica GT with such immortal lines as the Chevy Vega, Chevette, the AMC Gremlin, and the explosiveness that was the Ford Pinto.

The cat was out of the bag, then, as these altered relative perceptions of American and Japanese quality infiltrated the home electronics industry, and we bought up millions and millions of Sony VCRs and Hitachi TVs and Panasonic stereos. And while we were listening and watching and barbecuing on the Hibachi, the Japanese were working 15 hours a day coming up with their latest weapon.

Nintendo. Perhaps the greatest assault on American productivity ever invented. Its reach is so profound, its hold on Americans young and old so tenacious that it remains, with it's cousin, the Sony Playstation, a principal weapon for the 80s, 90s and 00s. Sleepless, half-blind, Vitamin D deprived and plagued with tendonitis, we are in poor array to withstand this perennial assault. Oh, sure, there were the productivity gains hatched from the American led PC revolution, a significant insurgency, but the mindlessness of "gaming" appears to have weathered that storm, as folks knock each other to the floor to get PSIIIs, not laptops.

Not that the Japanese are resting on their laurels. In the never-ending crusade to sap American productivity, there is always another front. For their latest trick, they have turned our weapon on ourselves. Dell, in the 70s, started to publish an old number game by the dopey name "Number Place". Nobody paid much attention to it here, but it gained some play in Japan. No doubt fully appreciating the addictiveness of this little game, they renamed it with a cute Japanese name and sent it back here in 2005, what the hell? Sudoku. More billions of American work hours down the tubes.

It never ends.