Monthly Archives: September 2007

Gender, Tech

Liz and Dorothea point toward this right-on xkcd comic, and Michelle and Shelley appear in O’Reilly’s Women In Tech site. Michelle’s essay concerns technology changing worlds; Shelley’s leans on her readers to recognize the scope and implications of the gender imbalance in world of tech. What they think matters, and what they’re talking about matters, and I’m glad that O’Reilly and xkcd and conference organizers have begun to pay attention — but there’s a long way to go, and a little attention still falls short of “a whole different culture.”

Last Five

OK, Michael wants to know “the last five songs I bought on iTunes,” which I will willfully redirect to “the last five songs I bought online.” Since I buy from lotsx of different online music vendors, restricting my answers to iTunes would I’ll also count only one song from the Music From the Court of Henry VIII album that I bought yesterday from Amazon, because Hey, that’s not what you want to find out about me by asking.

So, herewith:

“Helas Madame” by Trinity Baroque et al., Music From the Court of Henry VIII
“Meditation,” by Booker T and the MGs, Best of. . . . (based on Scott’s recommendation)
Hmmmm. . . .
“Joe Peet Is In The Bed,” Rockin’ Sidney, My Toot Toot
“Down On Me,” Eddie Head and His Family, American Primitive Vol. 1: Raw Gospel (and the rest of this essential album)
“Make Them Dance,” Defunkt, Defunkt

also recently a few missing Kinks songs, some Lou Reed, two recent Proclaimers albums, the new Lyle Lovett, and I’m nigh onto buying the recent Rickie Lee Jones album Sermon on Exposition Boulevard. And the new Bruce Springsteen single when it was first released, since Jennifer gave tickets to the fall tour to Margaret and me for our anniversary.

For The Record

Evidently you can’t use Gift Certificates for MP3 downloads at Amazon. That’s a minor nuisance for us — we buy enough books, etc., that it will easily even out. Still, a minor nuisance is still a nuisance.

Michael followed up on yesterday’s experience by noting

An update on my Amazon downloader experience. I ended up on the phone with Amazon late last night and was able to download the songs. Evidently, the Amazon Downloader doesn’t work with proxy servers (found in most companies), so people won’t be using Amazon Downloader at the office, like they do with iTunes.

BTW, I also tagged you for an internet meme:

Have a good weekend,


(Thanks, Michael — I’ll answer the meme in the next post above)

Amazon Vs. iTunes Throwdown

Having blogged about the new Amazon MP3 store without actually, you know, kinda using it, I felt a pang of accountability to check it out. It took a while to find a recording that interested me enough to select it — the selection is still spotty, and it didn’t include some of my test-case obscurities such as Jools Holland and His Millionaires or the Iron City Houserockers’ Love’s So Tough — but I was drawn to a recording of Music From the Court of Henry VIII, and 27 cuts for $7.99 stood out as a good deal. I started clicking and pushing buttons, downloaded the requisite separate downloader application, agreed to the terms of service, and installed the application. During the installation process, a blank screen popped up with two buttons: “Ignore” and “Choose” (I think those were the options; it took place a couple of hours ago, so I’m no longer certain). Granted that I couldn’t tell what I was supposed to ignore or choose, I clicked on the “Ignore” button; this may turn out to be important, but at the moment it’s hard to tell.

I continued the “buy an album” process, booted up the shiny Amazon Downloader app, got to the the Make a Payment screen, gave Amazon my permission to charge me $7.99, and — Nothing happened. The shiny Amazon Downloader app had no album listed for downloading, and when checked back at the Amazon end of things, I had been charged for the album, and there was no visible option for “resume interrupted download” or “whoops, we didn’t send you the files you paid for, here they are.” Instead, Amazon’s page that reputedly tells me my download history solemnly assures me that I have indeed downloaded them.

I’ve filled out a query with Amazon’s usually-outstanding customer service department. We’ll see what happens next. Right now, I’m liking Apple’s integrated approach more than Amazon’s “our web page will hand off the downloading process to a separate application” approach.

At least one correspondent has indicated experiencing the same problem, and has not heard back from Amazon. Details when they become available.

In what is, I assume, a response to my problem, I’ve received a gift certificate from Amazon for more than the amount of the album. I’ll go try to download it and see what happens.

Lather, rinse repeat. Not only did the download not go through, the process left no evident way to pay for my purchases with the gift certificate. I followed up with Amazon’s phone support system — waiting for their callback right now.

OK, here’s the scoop: the gift certificate had nothing to do with my order; it was, by sheer coincidence, the arrival of my Amazon Associates quarterly certificate. The main Amazon call center doesn’t handle calls relative to the MP3 program; make sure, if you’re calling in a query, that you enter the order number in some field or another, so that they direct your call to the MP3 customer service.

The MP3 service rep walked me through the problem, which seems to have involved my Safari and Amazon applications not talking to one another. He remedied this by instructing me to restart Safari —after which time the Amazon downloader did indeed recognize Safari and the files that we were working with. If this happened to you, they will work with you to make sure you get the files you’ve paid for.

As for me, I can’t count this as a successful test, though the files are gradually appearing on my drive. Sometime I need a single file, I’ll drift back again to see what Amazon has to offer.

Another Peter Martyr

You may recall that I have a particular devotion to St Peter of Verona, a/k/a Peter Martyr, as well as to holy cards in general; last week, I bid on and obtained (at a very reasonable price) a holy card in my favorite style depicting Peter Martyr.

Peter of Verona (Peter Martyr)

Now, this image departs from the “cleaver in the skull” stream of Verona iconography in favor of the “stab in the back” school. This example also features Peter touching his finger to his lips, perhaps in reference to his inquisitorial responsibility to silence heretics or perhaps in the silent contemplatives’ gesture requesting permission to speak (though this interpertation seems called into question by the title of Fra Angelico’s portrait, “St Peter Martyr Enjoining Silnce”). He carries a book (signifying his scholarship), and his “Credo” (allegedly written in his own blood in his dying moments) appears at his feet.

Greetings, New Himmer!

Wild cheering, enthusiastic encomia, heartfelt best wishes, and prayers for all concerned: as of Saturday, Sage and Steve have a new baby daughter*! Woo-hoo!

* And Checkers has a possible nemesis, possible boon companion, possible rival for attention, but definite precious, beloved family member-in-need-of-ferocious canine guarding.

Amazon MP3

After several foregone-conclusion warm-up bouts against stiffs and glass-jawed losers, iTunes finally faces a contender. iTunes has the advantages of a vast established user base, integration with the music-playing application, integration with iPods, and various Apple intangibles. Amazon brings its own user base, higher-quality music files, lower prices, and no DRM.

I haven’t bought anything from the Amazon store yet, but I’ve browsed, and was impressed by the variety of selections they offer (right now, iTunes selections in stock outnumber Amazon something like 4-to-1, but a great many of the iTunes offerings are very obscure; that’s an advantage to iTunes if you’re looking for a little-known piece, but many users won’t notice the difference.

The big advantage is Amazon’s DRM-free file format. Living away from home, in a family with four other music-listeners, and having owned several different computers since the digital music revolution started, I often encounter the “Sorry, this computer is not authorized to play this track” roadblock when I want to play a selection. Amazon seems to offer a profound advantage — without DRM overhead, with superior encoding, and at a lower price, it looks to me as though they’re well-positioned to put a dent in the iTunes Wall of Imperviousness. I’ll bet Apple responds pretty quickly. That’ll be healthy for everyone involved — it tears away the illusory “necessities” to which the music industry and Apple have alluded in rationalizing their practices during the heyday of the digital-music monopoly. These should be exciting days in digital media!

Cinnamon Donut Holes

Does anyone actually like them? They’re always the last kind left in any array I observe. Yesterday the Center hosted two groups to whom it served donut holes (I decline to use the commercial name for them), and this morning the leftovers were set out with the coffee: all cinnamon.

Randy Pausch, Worth Every Second

I’m pretty jaundiced about internet memes, so when I started seeing ed-tech bloggers rhapsodize about a lecture by someone named Randy Pausch, I skipped ahead; yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. But at a certain point I figured there might indeed be something to it, so I went over to YouTube to watch.

In this case, the meme was right.

Randy Pausch teaches Human-Computer Interface Design at Carnegie-Mellon. “Teaches,” in the sense that he has served at CMU for a number of years, and his students have taken his lessons with them and will pass them along for generations. But not “teaches” in the sense of “has a regular class schedule, since he has been told that his particularly aggressive pancreatic cancer gives him only a few more weeks to live.

He and his family moved to Virginia to be near family, but he came back to CMU to give a lecture on September 18th; this is the lecture that’s up on Google Video.

Pausch shows some blind spots, but I know I would if I were in his position; and I doubt I’d show nearly his grace and generosity.

Among my favorite moments:

“When you’re screwing up and no one’s saying anything to you any more, that’s because they’ve already given up.”

“Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you. If you’re really pissed off at somebody and you’re angry at them, you just haven’t given them enough time.”

“What a privilege and honor it was to teach that course for about ten years. . . . The course was all about bonding. People used to say ‘What’s going to make for a good [virtual] world?’ and I tell them ‘I can’t tell you beforehand, but right before they present it I can tell you if a world’s good just from the body language. If they’re standing close to each other, the world is good.’ ”

“Be earnest. I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person every day, because hip is short term — earnest is long term.”

“When you do the right thing, good stuff has a way of happening.”

Britney + AKMA?

For those with case-hardened steel eardrums, DaveX at startlingmoniker has mashed up an example of ways the RIAA suggests polluting peer-to-peer filesharing networks. He started with Britney Spears’s new single “Gimme More” (the one she torpedoed weekend before last on the Video Music Awards show), then interwove it with — hey, that’s me! DaveX used one of my portions of the Larry Lessig Free Culture read-a-thon. He didn’t get my permission first; there’s no need, since the read-a-thon portions are covered by a Creative Commons license. But if I had known that someone might remix me with Britney, I’d have thought twice about the whole affair.

(Warning: The inspiration for DaveX’s work was a memo in which the RIAA suggests using random static, annoying squeals, varying volume levels, and other such means to destroy the value of a decoy file. My voice, and even Britney’s voice, are among the least irritating aspects of the file to which he links in Update 2 and Update 3 at the bottom of his post.)

Duck and Cover

Last Week, David Isenberg posted a graphical clue to what the Big Providers’ dream of the internet would be like: get yer basic internet for $29.95 a month, with free access to AOL, Disney,, msn, and so on. For $39 a month, you can use Google, Wikipedia, and Yahoo! If you want to blog or watch YouTube, that’s $49 a month.

Meanwhile, Tim Bray lays out the trajectory to setting the mobile net on fire; it’s a shade counter-intuitive, it’s quite antithetical to the BigTelCo vision of net partiality, and it’s dead-on right. First, you eliminate flat-rate data billing. As Tim points out, with a flat-rate plan, the provider has no incentive to innovate on the back-end to serve more bits faster down bigger pipes. Contrariwise, the fixed-rate plan provides an incentive for the provider to discourage you from using the network, since they get the same income regardless of how much you use the system. Grampa McGillicuddy who only logs on once a day to see how the Wildcats did pays the same rate as
Cory Doctorow, who derives nutrition from the bits that he digitally assimilates by the terabyte. (By the way, is this the first online public indication that Cory’s engaged? Congratulations to you both!) If the online companies bill by the bandwidth you use, though, they have an incentive to induce you to use more bandwidth and to serve it more efficiently.

And as Tim likewise points out, if they cultivate a cooperative relationship with developers who can piggyback on their billing system, open the window, Aunt Minnie, here it comes!

Big Weekend

Pippa and Margaret and I rolled up to Maine for the weekend — more specifically, for Saturday — to celebrate Margaret’s mother’s birthday. Pat didn’t want a big party, so it was just family: Pat and Dick, the Princeton/Evanston delegation, and Jeanne and Gail. But Jeanne and Margaret had prepared an album of greetings from people all through Pat’s life to send greetings and memories.

Queen Pat

The project would have been quite secret, except that some people sent cards and letters direct to Pat; the full scope of the project, though, wasn’t clear to her till she arrived at the celebration. A huge stack of photos, letters, memorabilia, and cards awaited her; we couldn’t get through the whole array without some summarizing and abbreviating. (Of course, if you sent a greeting, be assured that we read your message in full, with fond reminiscences and delighted commentary.)

A very special day was had by all, and I expect everyone needed a very full night’s sleep. Now we’re striking out for New Jersey, to get back, get back, get back to where we once belonged.