Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Giant Steps

If you’re a Coltrane fan, check this out. Thanks to my friend Vic Atkins for the link.

iTunes Fingers Musical Fraud

Via Slashdot, a story about how the digital fingerprint used by CDDB to identify the title, artist and other information about music tracks in iTunes was used to uncover a musical fraud:

The recordings of a British concert pianist who found fame in the last years of her life have been exposed as hoaxes – by Apple’s iTunes music player.

Joyce Hatto died in June 2006, having become a cause célèbre with fans of classical piano in the last years of her life. A series of recordings showed her masterful command of a wide range of composers including Liszt, Schubert, Rachmaninov, Dukas and more.

Last week, a critic at the Gramophone magazine got [a] surprise when he put a Hatto recording of Lizt’s 12 Transcendental Studies into his computer. The iTunes player identified the disc as being recorded by another pianist, Lászlo Simon. He dug out the Simon album and found it sounded exactly the same as the Hatto one.

iTunes had stumbled on a hoax. To identify albums it calculates a ‘discid’ from the duration of the tracks and then connects to the Compact Disc Database online. The Gramophone critic tried another disc – Hatto playing Rachmaninov – and again iTunes identified it as belonging to someone else. Again, the named recording – by Yefim Bronfman – sounded no different.

I’ve seen a good deal of research in recent history dealing with the automatic detection of plagiarism, or of the unauthorized use of digital images on the web. I would guess that the RIAA and their cronies even use technology along these lines to track down copyrighted music and movies available for download (illegally) on file-sharing sites. But this particular application of the web, and how it all came about by accident, is just fascinating to me.

I Don’t Want a .mac Account That Bad

When you’re applying for a new account name or screen name, and the system keeps telling you that your various requested names have already been claimed — even after you just start making up nonsense words in desparation — do you ever have the suspicion that they’re just screwing around with you?

Stikkit

Merlin Mann has just announced his involvement (as a member of the advisory board) with Stikkit, which looks like a really interesting new web application. I am still watching their screencasts and trying to figure out how (if) I could make use of this, but I’m already especially interested in how they extract data (like contact information, event dates, and such) from freeform text. I do wonder how robust it is and how easy it is to correct Stikkit when it makes a bad guess about what kind of information you’re entering.

Anyways. Have you played around with Stikkit yet? What did you think?

Knives Ahead

I really need to start carrying a digital camera around with me, or at least learn how to download pictures from my cell phone to my computer. For example, if I had been more prepared, I could have captured for you an image of the sign outside the Billiard Street Cafe, advertising their upcoming “Huntsville Hottys” competition. ( I didn’t stop to inform them that the proper spelling would be “Hotties.”)

But I am specifically thinking of a sign we saw on the side of the road on Highway 280, down near my in-laws’ house in Sterrett. It was a small white sign, low to the ground, and the sign-maker had used black spray paint against a stencil to apply the ominous message: “KNIVES AHEAD.” Man, I wish I’d taken a picture.

Mini-Review: Eleanor Rigby

I somehow missed Eleanor Rigby when it was first published, which is unfortunate because it meant that the last two Douglas Coupland novels I read were Hey, Nostradamus! (published just prior to Eleanor Rigby) and JPod (published a couple of years after). I didn’t enjoy either one very much, and I was worried that Mr. Coupland had lost whatever it was that I liked about his writing. I just didn’t care about the characters in either of those books, like I had cared about Daniel and his friends from Microserfs, or the characters in Girlfriend in a Coma (whose names I can’t recall at the moment,) or even the bizarre cast of All Families Are Psychotic (bless their hearts!).

This book is about Liz Dunn, a lady who’s lonely, overweight and more or less resigned to a nothing-special kind of life. Things start to change for Liz when Jeremy, the son she placed for adoption when she was a teenager, unexpectedly re-enters her life as an adult. To tell you much more than that would ruin the surprise for you, and after all, this is a mini-review so I’m honor-bound to keep things brief. Suffice it to say that it’s an easy and enjoyable read, and one I’d recommend to someone who hasn’t read any of Douglas Coupland’s novels before. So there, go read it.

Assaulted Battery

Well, my luck with the new MacBook began to run out a little over a week ago, now. I wasn’t quite experiencing the “random” shutdown problem that a lot of MacBook owners are seeing, but my MacBook would shut down without warning when it was running off of battery power and the battery life fell too low. I tried recalibrating my battery, and resetting the Power Management Unit, but sometime last night the battery finally gave up the ghost. When I plugged the MacBook in this morning, it could no longer recharge the battery — there was a big ugly “X” there on the screen for the battery indicator.

So I dropped the MacBook off at my local store, and described the problem. They shouldn’t need to send it off to be repaired, but we’ll at least have to wait for a new battery to arrive. I hope that that’s all that it is.

First eBay Sale

I’ve just completed my first sale on eBay, and it went really well. I sold my old Palm Zire 31 handheld, which I replaced with a Palm T|X last Christmas. The buyer paid me earlier this morning, and I’ve just dropped the package off at the post office.

The item sold for $51.07. I added on $6.21 handling fees to cover the cost of the box and packing peanuts. The priority mail postage is estimated at $7.20 (for a weight of 2 lbs. 8 oz.) And the buyer requested shipping insurance, which was estimated to be $2.30. So the total cost to the customer was $66.78.

Now to figure out how much I netted on the sale. I had to pay for the box and packing peanuts, so knock off that $6.21. That is, I didn’t “build in” any profit there. The actual cost for postage was $5.30 (a bit less than eBay’s estimate), and insurance was $2.30. I spent another 50 cents for delivery confirmation. PayPal took their cut of the transaction, which was $2.24. And eBay charged me $1.20 for the listing, plus another $2.09 for their cut of the sale (ugh!).

So (if I did my math correctly) my net on the sale was $46.94. Not too bad, considering that the Zire has just been sitting around collecting dust for the last eight months. The next time around, I need to figure out if there’s any way to reduce the middle man (eBay and PayPal) fees a bit — those two combined ate up over $5 of my profit. I’m guessing there’s no easy way to avoid that, though. I’ve read that some eBay sellers will pad their handling fees to account for things like that, but that seems a little dishonest to me. I need to think about that some more.

Research and Writing Tools for the Mac

I’ve had my new MacBook for about a month and a half now and have been evaluating a lot of different tools to help me organize my research and writing efforts. The good news is that there’s a lot of great software out there. The bad news, such as it is, is that this abundance of great software can make it difficult to choose just the right set of tools and get back to work. However, I wanted to note a couple of tools that have made the cut for me.

The first piece of software that I want to mention is DEVONthink Professional, from DEVONtechnologies. The license for this one isn’t cheap, and I agonized over the decision of whether or not to buy it. It helps that they offer a fully-functional trial version that works for 150 hours, because you’re going to need it to really evaluate this software. DT Pro has a pretty steep learning curve, and it’s poorly documented. Well, let me qualify that: The documentation describes how to use the application from a functional standpoint, but it doesn’t address the more important question of how to effectively use DT Pro to solve your information management problems.

I haven’t been using DT Pro long enough to be able to give a really comprehensive review, so I’ll just talk about one of my favorite features. If I’m reading something interesting on a web page, or in someone’s web log, I can highlight the text of interest and use the “Take Rich Note” service (installed with DT Pro) to clip that text to my DT Pro database. Like everything else in the database, that clip is instantly indexed and searchable. DT Pro can tell me if there are similar items in the database, and can offer intelligent suggestions about how best to classify the new clipping. While I was evaluating DT Pro, I found a number of other very nice applications for “clipping” stuff from web pages and archiving them in a database, but none of them offered the kind of advanced classification technology found in DT Pro.

If you decide to look into DT Pro, I strongly recommend that you spend some time hanging out in the DEVONtechnologies User Forum. Bill DeVille (a DEVONtechnologies employee) and several other veteran users of DT Pro can provide you with a lot of insight into how DT Pro actually works. You can also check out the del.icio.us bookmarks for the DEVONthink tag to find some good reviews and usage tips.

The other software that I want to mention briefly is Journler, which I’ve just discovered. I was actually looking into my options for a blogging client for Mac OS X when I came across Journler, but it appears to be much more than your basic blogging client. I’ve only just started playing with it — in fact, I’m using it to write this post — but it looks like a pretty amazing piece of “donationware” (free software, with a suggested donation). Journler is modestly described as a “daily notebook and entry based information manager.” It appears to be pretty tightly integrated with iLife and other standard Mac applications like AddressBook and Mail. I’ll try to write more after I’ve had a chance to use it for awhile, but as long as it’s free, I’d recommend your taking a look too!

Leave the Driving to Us

I just visited Progressive’s Drive Insurance web site to try to get auto insurance quotes. I can enter my zip code, and the fact that I’m looking for car insurance, but the party’s over when I click the button to request quotes:

Unfortunately, we cannot provide you with a quote online. We require that you have Internet Explorer version 6.0 or newer to get a quote online. Our systems indicate that your browser is an older version or does not otherwise meet this requirement. We apologize for the inconvenience.
This isn’t a complete surprise, as I’m using Safari on Mac OS X. So I fired up Firefox instead.

No luck there, either — they really have hard-coded their site for IE. How ironic is it that a company named “Progressive” has such a late 1990′s approach to web site design? I honestly don’t remember the last web site I visited that just refused to work with non-IE browsers. I mean, even Microsoft’s own web sites don’t require IE.