December 28, 2007
Ask and you shall receive: Warner Music drops DRM
Only yesterday I was complaining that Warner Music was still using Digital Rights Management protections on its music downloads sold through iTunes. Today's New York Times has a report that Warner will begin to sell DRM-free downloads on Amazon.com's mp3 download site. Great news! Now it's up to Sony/BMG to step to the plate.
November 28, 2007
Deutsche Grammophon opens classical music download site
The grandaddy of all high-class classical music recording companies, Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft has today opened up their online download site, which features non-DRM mp3 files encoded at a lavish 320kbps. The site has available for download most of DGG's latest releases (including the Cleveland Orchestra's new recording of the Beethoven 9th Symphony, which up to now has only been available for download from iTunes in a lower-resolution format with DRM protection. I'm glad I waited....) and a host of classic recordings, many of which have been out of print in CD format and are now available as downloads.
Registration for the site is easy, although you do have to surrender your name and email address to them. If you sign up for their email newsletter they give you one free track download. (I chose the "Adagietto" movement from Mahler's Symphony no. 5, performed by the acclaimed Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, conducted by the hot young Venezuelan composer Gustavo Dudamel. All went smoothly with the download, although it was a bit slow--I can imagine that there may be a run on the DGG servers on their first day of operation.)
This is big! DGG is following the lead of EMI, Chandos, and some other smaller labels. We can hope that the other branches of the Universal Music Group (Decca main among them) will follow DGG's first step. Warner Music and Sony BMG, where are you? Come on in--the classical music audience isn't going to steal you blind.
September 08, 2006
Rita Dove, wonderful; Audience, a mess
Rita Dove, the former Poet Laureate of the United States, gave the second annual Anisfield-Wolf Lecture at Severance Hall today a mid-day. Ms. Dove read selections from her own works with commentary about her life and our times. It was a compelling presentation.
Apparently not compelling enough, however, for the man in the audience who was audibly snoring during part of the lecture. (Severance Hall has excellent acoustics.) I was embarrassed for him and for the audience. There is no way that Rita Dove could have missed it; and since I was sitting quite close to the stage, I could see her body language tense up when she heard it. She clearly lost her concentration for a moment.
There were also a myriad cell phones that rang during the lecture. Now, I understand that everyone occasionally forgets to turn off and gets a nasty ringing surprise in a quiet public place; however, there is simply no excuse for the person sitting behind me to have taken the call from her seat in the middle of the presentation. I turned around and glared at her. If she is reading this, yes, I mean you.
It is also unfortunate that two-thirds of the audience (i.e., most of the SAGES students in attendance) got up and left immediately at the end of the formal presentation and did not stay for the Q&A. It was in her answers to the questions that Rita Dove was most revealing about her working methods, inspirations, and her background as a poet.
August 31, 2006
Google Books now is allowing free downloads of public domain books
Yesterday Google announced that it is now possible to download full-text PDF versions of books in the public domain (i.e., generally published prior to 1923) from its site. The Boston Globe has a good introductory article to the new service. (Titles still under copyright have been scanned; however, Google only makes available small "snippets" of the text, with an invitation to buy the book from several online retailers.)
I tried it out yesterday. The books are image-based PDFs and do not have OCR full-text attached to the PDFs--therefore it is impossible to do full text searching in the downloaded file. The files are relatively small. (Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass was about 4.7 MB, so it was vey speedy over Case's network.) It is possible to do full-text searching on Google's site. Since I have access to Acrobat Professional, I tried running the OCR on the copy that I downloaded. It appears that Google has down-sampled the images used to create the downloadable PDFs to a quite low resolution in order to make the PDF files small enough for convenient download. The result is that Acrobat's built-in OCR does not work well. About only half or less of the text was able to be OCR'd, which makes it pretty useless for searching, since you would never know whether a search term was really there or not. The other issue with the PDF and OCR is that since these scans are taken from library copies, all with a certain "patina of use," there are many "non-print" artifacts in the scanned images (I especially liked the one that appeared to be someone's use of a crayon for highlighting in the text.) There are also various readers' marginal notes. All these artifacts confuse the OCR.
So if you're looking for an old book just for reading online or perhaps printing to your own printer, the Google Books PDFs may be for you. If what you need is searchable text of public domain books, you're better off to stick with the text-only versions at Project Gutenberg. Still Google's project is a triumph of making content freely available. It also frees other libraries to spend precious digitization resources on unique materials that will add to the world digital library.
March 03, 2006
Ageism in technology? Yes. For good reason? Hmmm.... maybe.
The March 2006 issue of Wired magazine has an article about Sky Dayton new venture to bring state-of-the-art mobile phone technology to the U.S. by means of a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) called Helio. Sky Dayton, you'll recall, is the guy who founded Earthlink. He's now the ripe old age of 34, quite ancient in technology terms. An MVNO is a company that sells mobile phones and service plans, but doesn't own any network infrastructure; rather an MVNO leases infrastructure and capacity from other companies that do. Examples of MVNO are Virgin Mobile and Mobile ESPN; even the bottom of the rack Seven-Eleven wireless plans are MVNO.
Dayton is annoyed that cell phone technology in the United States is a backwater. It is only necessary to look at Korea and Japan and the Scandinavian countries to find much more imaginative use of high-speed cellular technology. Helio's goal is to bring that technology to the U.S. by teaming up with SK Telecom, Korea's leading wireless carrier. They will be buying network capacity from Verizon and Sprint. They are also setting up a partnership with myspace.com.
All this was interesting in and of itself, but what struck me was the description of the marketing research that the Helio consultants have done to drill in on their core potential customers--18- 32-year-olds with money to burn. They broke down the 61 million 18-32 age group into 8 groups, five of which would not be interested in the Helio products, but 3 groups would be: the "spoil me", the "see me", the "feed me" crowd (read the article for the whole explanation.)
I have to say that I found it rather distasteful, all the while knowing that this is exactly how companies figure out how to make money. The clear implication of this planning is that persons of my generation (baby boomer) would not have interest in having a wireless phone that was able to receive video news or TV or streamed music. (I find it more than a little odd, since I probably have more disposable income than do many young professionals who still have student loans to pay off.) It is true that I am not interested in having music videos from the latest bands, nor am I interested in the offerings of myspace.com. But maybe I am interested in video newsfeeds from CNN and the offerings of gather.com, the new web site sponsored by partly by NPR for the intellectual crowd.
For tech companies there will always be an unending supply of 18-32-year-olds. But what happens when the current crop gets out of the targeted marketing demographic? Can we expect companies to abandon them, or will we start to see a broader range of services offered to a wider demographic over time? I may be antique by the measurement technology time, but it doesn't mean that I'm not interested and that I don't have money to spend.
November 02, 2005
Strunk and White Set to Art and Song
It turns out that I am not the only one intrigued by this new version of a classic. NPR featured a segment on today's Morning Edition about Kalman's illustrated edition. The feature described several of the illustrations, but went on to say that Maira Kalman decided that pictures were not enough, but she decided that there should be an opera based on The Elements of Style, so she commissioned composer Nico Muhly to write operatic songs based on the text. The operatic version had its first performance in the main reading room of the New York Public Library. I think E.B. White is smiling somewhere in the Great Reading Room of the Beyond.
September 20, 2005
MacArthur "Genius" Grants Includes Rare Book Preservationist at UVA
It's not every day that one reads "genius" and "librarian" in the same sentence. But among the twenty-five 2005 MacArthur Fellows announced today (the so called "genius" awards) there is Terry Belanger, the rare book conservation officer at the University of Virginia. Among Mr. Belanger's achievements was founding the Rare Book School (RBS) at Columbia University, later moved to the University of Virginia, that has become a sought-after limited-enrollment summer program relating to the history and preservation of books and manuscripts.
The New Yorker on DVD
NPR's Morning Edition today had a feature about an interesting publishing venture: every issue of The New Yorker back to its beginning in 1925 on eight DVDs. The entire content of each issue will be presented in context, as it appeared on the page of the printed issue, complete with cartoons and advertising. Here's the link to The New Yorker's own online ad for the DVD publication. The $63 that amazon.com is charging for the DVD collection is close to what one would pay for a current yearly subscription.
Libraries, of course, have been subscribing to electronic versions of journals for use by their customers for years, first on CD-ROM, then online. But this is one of the first electronic journal publications directed primarily at the end-consumer. (National Geographic is the other notable example, but their publication is now several years old and technology has become exponentially more sophisticated.) From a technology standpoint it can and will become problematic for those of us who are inclined to purchase these DVDs. It is the eternal question: what will I do when DVD is no longer the technology of choice. I will have eight lovely New Yorker coasters, and I'll purchase the new format. (Perhaps by that time, however, I'll be so out of it that I won't care about The New Yorker anymore.)
September 14, 2005
REMINDER: Digital Library Lecture Series begins on Thursday, 9/15
On Thursday, September 15, 1:30-3:30 PM, we are launching the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Kelvin Smith Library with the first of a year-long series of digital library lectures. The first lecturer is John Unsworth, Dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he holds appointments as professor in GSLIS, in the department of English, and on the library faculty. From 1993-2003, he served as the first Director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, and as a faculty member in the English Department, at the University of Virginia. In 1990 at North Carolina State University, he co-founded the first peer-reviewed electronic journal in the humanities, Postmodern Culture. Prof. Unsworth's lecture title is "The value of digitization for libraries and humanities scholarship."
The lecture will take place in the Dampeer Room of Kelvin Smith Library and is free and open to all.
For further information about the KSL Digital Library Lecture Series visit http://library.case.edu/ksl/admin/lecture2005.
July 07, 2005
Just as you dress for success, you should manage your gadgets for success
Today's New York Times has an article about cell phone etiquette in the work place: stories about people interrupting business meetings to take calls from their children arranging meal choices; seminar leaders stopping their sessions to take calls; patients taking calls while the doctor is in the office waiting for them. We've all heard the stories, and witnessed them, and perhaps even participated in such calls.
I have long wondered when we made the transition to the seeming requirement that we must be personally and professionally available at all times. Are we so removed from personal interaction that we need our mobile phones to make others think that we are important? Thankfully, Case has not been infected by the Blackberry (aka "Crackberry" in some circles for its addictive qualities) mania that has infected many business and government offices, which allows meeting attendees to ignore the meeting and read and send emails, not to mention a host of other antisocial behavior. There are stories about government workers flirting in noisy bars via their Blackberries.
Just as loud personal phone calls in the office disturb colleagues, one wonders about the lack of courtesy that people exhibit with regard to their colleagues and fellow travelers. Do I really want to know the intimate details of someone's love life or divorce proceedings? (No, I don't, although I've heard--unsolicited--both.) Then there is the noisy doc in the locker room at 1-2-1 Fitness Center who talks about his patients' diagnoses for all to hear. (He's usually in another aisle of lockers, so maybe it's a case of "I can't see you, so you can't hear me.")
Many libraries have banned mobile phones altogether. (I visited the New York Public Library main reading room in January and at the entrance, there is a huge standing sign of a cellphone with the international red slash "forbidden" mark through it. It's a little hard to miss their point.) The Kelvin Smith Library has articulated a policy of allowing mobile phones only in the lobby area outside the security gates of the library. The policy is widely ignored, although it does seem to have lessened the noise of ringers. More to the point, the policy empowers library users to ask others to stop using their phones, if the users find such use disturbing. There is a second reason NOT to use your mobile in the atrium and main staircase area is that the atrium acts like a gigantic megaphone, and everything you say on the stairs can be heard on all of the landings throughout the building. (Likewise the advice applies to conversations as well.)
June 21, 2005
A Failed Wiki Experiment
Today's New York Times has an article about an experiment by the Los Angeles Times using Wiki technology to let readers alter a 1,000-word editorial, in much the same way as the Wikipedia allows alterations in articles.
After Slashdot.org posted a link to the "Wikitorial," the LA Times started finding pornography posted, and the paper was forced to take the site down after a day and a half, early on Sunday morning. Here is the LA Times story on the episode. The paper expresses hope that some version of the feature may be tried again in the future. Too bad that "juveniles" (in emotional maturity, if not age) had to screw it up for others.
June 04, 2005
Wikipedia is a free open-source online encyclopedia containing over 1.5 million articles in 76 languages, include 576,000+ articles in English. The concept is that groups of people thinking and working on the same topic bring more knowledge than does any particular individual. It is an alluring idea that has a great deal of merit for certain narrowly defined applications. It originated as a mechanism to create online technical manuals for software developers in 1995.
The Wikipedia, however, has serious flaws as a medium of scholarly communication. Here are a few of them:
- Since the very nature of the Wikipedia is that articles are updated, it is impossible to know the state of "completeness" or accuracy at any given stage. If someone has posted a highly inaccurate or incomplete article on an obscure topic of interest to only a few people, that inaccurate information may stand for a long time before it is corrected. The unknowledgeable reader could be seduced into thinking that the information is correct and/or complete.
- Since anyone can add to and edit Wikipedia articles, it is possible for the author of a paper to add his or her own content/conjecture to a Wikipedia article to support that individual's position. Wikipedia does not insist on a standard scholarly apparatus that serious research requires. Assertions can be made without citation.
- Wikipedia articles are written by people who are interested, not necessarily by people who are scholars, in a particular topic. Indeed, most reputable scholars disdain the Wikipedia and expend their energies on more traditional scholarly communication.
- Although Wikipedia could be considered to have the ultimate peer review (i.e., anyone can change content), that is its ultimate downfall: why should I trust anything that is there.
- Like the elephant constructed by committee, there is no overall viewpoint in articles, thus lending to a lack of feeling of authority in the articles and odd holes in the coverage, even within a single article.
I really want to like the Wikipedia. Every few months I go to the site and check out several articles in topics on which I have a great deal of personal knowledge (mostly music). I have to admit that although the content is not outright incorrect, it is very incomplete. For example, the entry on the English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) has a "Selected list of works" that includes a citation for a very early (and decidedly minor) piece of background music for a BBC film of 1936, and the trivial "Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury" but does not include a listing of any of the voice and piano song cycles, such as "Winter Words" based on poetry of Thomas Hardy, or any of the five Canticles, any of which is more significant than some of the other works listed, not just in my opinion, but by any number of more scholarly and authoritative sources about Britten.
The Wikipedia may be an enchanting entertainment for the interested amateur, but I still have to dismiss it as a serious tool for scholarship.
June 01, 2005
Reviewed in the NY Times: A blog worth checking out
There are zillions of blogs out there and most of them (including, perhaps, this one) aren't worth the time it takes to open the URL to read them. Yesterday's New York Times had a review (yes a review of a blog!) of something very different. It is called PostSecret. PostSecret is described "as an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade [4 x 6 inch] postcard." The postcards are then scanned and, and the images are posted to the blog.
The secrets run from the trivial ("I save all the staples I pull out of papers at work. They're in a box on my desk and weigh a pound and a half." or "I leave poetry in library books.") to the horrific (Caption on a postcard showing a photo of the burning twin towers on 9/11: "He should have been at work that day. I wish he had been." or "My father was jailed for rape and molestation of his girlfriend's daughters. He's been there several years I've always suspected he molested me as well. But I've never said anything and I'm scared to find out if my suspicions are true. I'm not sure if my farther is the imprisoned one, or if the one imprisoned is me.")
The site doesn't have any fancy features, just the postcards, which you could spend hours reading. (It is so compelling that I have to pull myself away from it.) This is a true "digital exhibit" in which the art and the anonymous artists speak for themselves.
April 22, 2005
An Interesting Article About the Problems of Digitizing
I am currently pushing on my colleagues at the library a very interesting article by Richard Preston that appeared in the April 11, 2005, issue of The New Yorker about the digitization of "The Hunt of the Unicorn" tapestries from about 1500 that hang in The Cloisters, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that displays medieval art.
In the process of restoring the tapestries, the museum decided to digitize them, both front and back, so that there would be a permanent digital record preserved in case a catastrophe caused the destruction of the artifacts themselves. The museum hired very reputable consultants and photographers to make very high resolution images of the tapestries. The images were made in segments, with the idea that they could be "stitched together" into a seamless single image using Adobe Photoshop software. But when the museum staff tried to do so, they found that the images were far too large (filling more than two hundred data CDs) and complex to manage.
The museum then turned to two mathematician brothers, Gregory and David Chudnovsky. The brothers are number theorists and built their own supercomputer out of mail order parts. Their previous claim to fame had been to using their homemade supercomputer to calculate the humber pi to beyond two billion decimal places. The brothers thought that assembling the images would be a piece of cake.
But when they made their first attempt, it failed, and the Chudnovskys had no idea why. Upon further investigation about the process used to digitize the tapestries, it was discovered that they had changed shape very subtly while lying on the conservation lab floor being photographed. The Chudnovskys realized that they were working with an image of a three-dimensional structure. This required the brothers that they would need to recalculate every pixel of every image in order to make the image of the tapestries and to correct for subtle differences in color that had occurred during digitization. It was a series of computations, taking three months with their supercomputer, comparable to that of DNA sequencing. After the computations were completed, the final assembly of the first image took twenty-four hours of supercomputer time.
At the end of the article, Richard Preston, the author, describes revisiting the restored and re-hung tapestries at The Cloisters. Despite the phenomenal technological feats that had been used to create the digital image, the real things were still vastly superior, "full of velvety pools and shimmering surfaces, alive with color and detail. ... In comparison, the digital images, good and accurate as they were, had seemed flat. They had not captured the translucent landscape of the Unicorn tapestries."
March 29, 2005
Grokster and the Supremes
Today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral argument in a case that pits the online peer-to-peer software company Grokster and others against M-G-M and the major recording and motion picture companies. (Here is the New York Times coverage.) There are stars on both sides of the debate, both for and against file sharing. It is estimated that tens of millions of songs and movies are illegally downloaded every day.
Grokster will base its arguments on the so-called Sony Betamax case of 1984, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Sony could not be ruled for infringement even though some consumers used it to make illegal copies of copyrighted movies. What may influence this case, however, is the large scale piracy that has proceeded from the various file-sharing, and the fact that the digital copies are "perfect" (in contrast to multi-generational videotape copies, which lose quality with each succeeding copy).
As the New York Times correctly points out,
Regardless of the outcome, it still won't be legal to download copyrighted materials over the Internet without permission, though tens of millions of computer users do so each day. And any ruling won't affect thousands of copyright lawsuits filed individually against Internet users caught sharing music and movies online.Even if Grokster wins, it is still illegal to download somebody else's property onto your computer. Pay a visit to the iTunes store or the reincarnated Napster or Rhapsody or one of the other services instead and get out your credit card.
March 23, 2005
Stanley Sadie, musical scholar and editor of the New Grove, dies
Today's New York Times reports that Stanley Sadie, British musicologist and editor died on Monday, March 21, in London at the age of 74. Although he had a wide-ranging career as a music history scholar, Sadie will be most remembered as the general editor of the last two editions of the monumental New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. (The Case community has free access to the online version of New Grove from campus network computers or using VPN. This access is provided by the Kulas Music Library, a branch of KSL, and the Cleveland Institute of Music Library.)
As the New Grove's editor Stanley Sadie presided over the transition of this authoritative source from first a 20-volume set (in its 1980 edition) to 29 printed volumes and a constantly updated online version in 2001. He also knew the gold mine of data he was presiding over and expanded the the New Grove's range of activity to a large number of separately-published composer and musical topic monographs, by many of the leading scholars of the day. He also established more in-depth special dictionaries (one for opera; others for musical instruments and American music).
Stanley Sadie's final two books will be published in May and December this year.
March 22, 2005
A debate about personal technologies and societal impact
In this week's New York Times Magazine, there is a very interesting essay by Christine Rosen about how personal technologies such as cellphones and TiVo have changed perceptions of the manners of public life. She makes a comparison to the 19th century Industrial Revolution, in which machines prompted concern about the effects of dehumanizing the individual. This industrialization was the basis of Karl Marx's writings. Today's personal technologies, on the other hand, have not caused similar worries, according to Rosen.
The author proceeds to discuss commonly observed rude behavior, and how placing a cellphone call (or taking a cellphone call in public) "instantly transforms the strangers around you into unwilling listeners who must cede to your use of the public space, a decidedly undemocratic effect for so democratic a technology." She also describes the "publicization of emotional fulfillment"--answering the phone and entering into conversation informs everyone around that we are in demand by others--a kind of public security blanket.
Ms. Rosen concludes with an observation about the need to engage in debate about how these personal technologies can lead to collective societal problems. She makes the example of how in the debates about abortion and Social Security, claims of the individual good are made over others. How is our overall quality of life affected if the bombardment by others' phone calls makes our lives miserable? Maybe we would be better off just to turn the phones off.
In the interest of full disclosure, the Kelvin Smith Library has articulated a policy of no cell phone use in the library except outside the security gate in the main lobby. Library users are encouraged to request that others ignoring this policy move outside study and stack areas. We value your ability to study and work in a quiet environment.
March 07, 2005
English Accents at the British Library
Yesterday NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday program featured a story about the British Library's collection of digitized audio recordings following the transformations of English accents over the twentieth century. This is an excellent example of how a digital library can enhance scholarship and entertain as well. Scroll down the page and listen to the sample of the lady from Yorkshire describing baking bread.
The BL's dialect web site introduction describes it as follows:
All languages change over time and vary according to place and social domain, as is perfectly illustrated by these extracts taken from two large audio resources held in the British Library Sound Archive: the Survey of English Dialects and the Millennium Memory Bank. Together, they provide a fascinating overview of spoken English during the second half of the 20th century. Its rich diversity documents both continuity and change, offering many insights into local history and the fabric of social and working lives.
The NPR feature is here.