||Ramblings 4: Music, Kyodai, MPEG-4
February 20, 2002 Paul Sullivan
Summary: In this fourth Ramblings outing, Paul looks at the implications of copy-protected and damaged music, MPEG-4 license fees, Kyodai, and pay-per-search on Yahoo. As usual, heads will roll!
| Up First||Page:: ( 1 / 4 )|
A Glorious Past
Like many of you, I have spent a ton (perhaps best described as a very large bucket-load) of cash on music over the years. First there were albums, then cassettes and then the move to replace all of those albums and tapes with audio CD’s. It has been an expensive proposition, to say the least. However, as I sit back in my chair typing this text, I am listening to a custom MP3 mix from some of my favorite artists and I realize that it was worth every single penny. I’m glad I coughed up the dough, because music is one of those things that can touch you to the core of your being. It can drive your mind and your emotions like few things can. But lately, the emotion I am feeling most when I think about music is anger.
Why am I angry? Because it looks like the end of an era is at hand. For decades we have been able to make custom mixes of our music, from the radio to tape, from LP to tape and lately from CD to CD. But all that may be changing as the already rich and completely greedy record companies implement their various forms of copy protection. I’ve talked before about how the RIAA is pushing a particular method that does actual damage to the music in the form of “gaps” or “drop outs”. In order to get these to play back properly, a certain level of “error correction” has to be done at the time the music is being processed. In many cases, home players can handle most and possibly all of the errors, but computer CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives are not designed with this level of error correction. As a result, tracks ripped from these CD’s will be full of gaps and drop-outs, essentially lowering the quality to below FM radio levels. Of course, this creates a very serious problem for the consumer, but depending on how you look at it, it might just do the same for the RIAA.
Musical Morality Play
I have never felt good advocating piracy of any kind. The line has always been pretty clear, and I try not to cross it if I can avoid it. If a bud gives me a copy of a game or music CD to look at or listen to, I actually go out and buy it if I end up playing it beyond a simple trial period. Almost like a demo, you could say. I have felt good about purchasing music because the quality and longevity has improved beyond what it once was. I was getting great sounding music with a lot of flexibility and I could record custom mixes to cassette to play in the car. When I got my first CD burner, I was jazzed because I could make custom mixes and copies of my favorite full CD’s for the car too, meaning that if a thief broke in and stole the inexpensive copies, I could make masters again from the original disk, just like we did with LP’s. But because of the RIAA, things are different.
I find myself facing a moral dilemma. If I go to the store and purchase a CD in the very near future, chances are it is going to have “damaged” music on it thanks to the new copy protection. This means if I try to make a copy, it is going to come out sounding no better than an FM radio broadcast that has signal drop-outs. Why should I pay for damaged music when I can just record it off of the radio and have a similar listening experience?
If someone else buys the CD and rips the damaged tracks to MP3 and posts them on the net, you essentially have below FM quality music that you can download, which is only one step removed from recording the tracks off of the radio yourself. Since the music is damaged anyway, why not just go ahead and download the tracks and suffer through the poor quality for free like you did back in the day with FM and Cassettes? Why buy music now? The CD’s in stores surely aren’t “CD Quality” any more, right? So why bother paying for the music at all? Just record it off the “internet radio” and then make your custom mixes.
Those are the questions I’m wrestling with now, and I’m leaning heavily on the side of never purchasing another music CD again. All I have to do is go online, get some “FM” recordings and make my own damaged custom mixes and save myself the cost of paying for broken tracks from the store. If old loyalists like me are wavering, I wonder how many others are too? These “FM CD’s” are just not worth the money. So, I’ll savor the “Pre-FM CD’s” that I do have. Pre-FM CD Track Of The Week: “When The Levee Breaks” from Led Zeppelin.
SIDEBAR: After much thought, I think this new “damaged music” scheme may end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy for the record companies. They claim piracy as the reason for the scheme, but they may be pushing previously loyal buyers into skipping store purchases and going online. Pay for damaged tracks? Not likely.
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One Of My Very Favorite Games
Every now and then you get so jazzed about a game that you just want to share the joy. That’s what I’m going to do here about an amazing tile game called Kyodai. This is not just a game, but a labor of love, and it continues to get better and better with each update, making it one of the best values this side of Serious Sam.
Kyodai is an ongoing effort. A game that is continually updated to take advantage of some of the latest 3D advances while adding a boatload of excellent gaming features. Graphically, the game has become a marvel to look at, as can be hinted at by the “Welcome” screen below-left. I keep finding new and wonderful tile sets in each release, like the excellent “Seasons” set shown in the below-middle and below-right images. There are many themes and tiles to choose from, as well a great selection of music to help bring you into the game.
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There are game play modes in Kyodai that I have not even tried to figure out yet, but as the images above and below show you, they each have their own personality and look. The “Clicks” and “Slider” games are particularly addictive and can eat up hours of your time if you are not careful. “Clicks” has the goal of removing connected groups of similar tiles from the board until there is nothing left. Of course, you must plan carefully so that the tiles that fall after the removal leave you in a good position to remove more connected groups. “Slider” adds tiles to the board while you try to create a connected group of five or more matching tiles in the horizontal, diagonal or vertical orientation. If you can eliminate tile sets faster than they can be replaced, you will have a very high score indeed. The traditional “Mahjongg Solitaire” game is included, as are a few others, for a good overall selection.
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One of the excellent things about this game is how configurable it is. As the screen above-right shows, the menus are long and detailed, allowing users to tweak just about anything they may wish to. There are defaults for turning all the 3D effects on or off to make it a bit easier, but anyone who likes to tinker will be ecstatic over the level of detail put into customization. Give this great game a try by downloading the demo ( www.kyodai.com).
SIDEBAR: I wish every single game out there would store configuration information in their home installation directories. I get so tired of searching through the registry trying to find a way to back up my preferences in case I have to reinstall the game. Kyodai does this, thankfully. Another reason I like it. :)
| Broadband||Page:: ( 3 / 4 )|
Cable Modem Blues
Cable modem users have had a great deal going on for them compared to DSL folks like me. We have had strict caps on bandwidth and some have to pay extra to get 768k instead of 128k, for instance. But most cable modem users have had an open ceiling on download speeds. At least, that is, until now.
AT&T of the United States and Rogers Cable in the great land of Canada are both looking at implementing a tiered rate strategy that would charge users more for higher bandwidth consumption. They say that some 10 percent of the users take up some 70 percent of the bandwidth. Yikes! Still, to try to put a cap on your download speeds after the cat is out of the bag, well, I’m not sure how well that will go over. Wasn’t the cable modem industry supposed to be less expensive than DSL in the first place? After all, most homes already pay for basic or advanced cable, and this was supposed to be a simple add-on, right? But it is clear now that since the competition has folded all over the place (can you say Excite?), these companies are going to drop the hammer down on us and gouge us for a lot more money. After all, by low-balling the competition and driving them out of business, you can now feel free to jack up the prices like the virtual monopoly you are! (snicker)
As if that was not bad enough, there is one more little tidbit worth sharing. AT&T is trying a new strategy to wring even more hard earned cash out of the loyal U.S. workforce. You know how now you can go down to the store, pay some $70 and get a nice broadband router for your home that lets all of your computers share the same account to get online, thus reducing your overall cost? Well, AT&T wants to take that away from you.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, they want to nail you for another $4.95 a month for each computer that accesses the Internet through their cable modem system. They want to eliminate NAT (Network Address Translation) completely, which not only means you can’t have more than one user share the same account, it may also mean you can’t hide behind your trusty firewall any more. One of the reasons to use a NAT router, besides multiple PC’s, is so they can’t see who you really are. They see as far as the router and no further. However, by working with companies to sell non-NAT enabled routers, AT&T may be taking that protection away, meaning you are not going to be as anonymous as you once might have been. Be careful who you visit...
Getting The Most
One thing I noticed on my trusty Windows 98 SE machine is that it is not optimized for broadband packets. Just because I pay through the nose every month for a 768k download speed does not mean I get it. Thankfully, there are sites out there dedicated to helping you get the most from your DSL connection speeds. One of those sites is DSL Reports.
In addition to a ton of great information on the DSL industry, there are some very cool speed tests and configuration tweaks available in their DSLR Tools section. I initially tested at about 600k download and 110k upload speed, which is not quite what I pay for each month. After trying all four of the available registry tweaks, I found that the medium size worked best and I got 715k download and 122k upload.
Of course, the tests are somewhat subjective, and not all sites let you download at high rates. Some sites have a 384k download cap to save bandwidth costs, while others may have 786k instead of the big 1.5m speeds. Regardless, they are all faster than dial-up.
If you wish to test the true download speed after you make the tweaks, try going to big commercial sites like Mandrake and downloading big huge demo or distribution files and see how they do. I know downloading a huge 600 meg ISO file can put a strain on things, but it is a good measure of how much your modem and Internet connection can handle. You may be surprised at just how fast your connection ends up being after all of the overhead. If you are not getting the speeds you are paying for, even after the tweaks, it is time to call your provider.
SIDEBAR: Download accelerators may seem like a good thing on the surface, but they may end up hindering you if you have a fast broadband connection. Try the tests with and without your download accelerator active to make sure that you are not getting hammered by the software. I did, and I no longer use an accelerator at all.
| Endgame||Page:: ( 4 / 4 )|
Thanks to a loyal reader who emailed me about the SUSE Linux information I posted in a previous article. It seems that SUSE does allow an active FTP download of their Intel based distribution instead of an actual ISO download, as they do with other distributions. It still does not sit well with me, as it flies in the face of the ISO download tradition that other distribution makers have, but at least they do technically allow for an install of the latest Intel distribution for free. Want to be accurate, in my own childish, whiny way. :)
One thing that does chap my hide is the movement by some download sites to force users to register before they can get the latest files. Yes, we should all be happier than a puppy at a fire hydrant convention because we are getting the files for free, but still, it is a rather annoying little addition to the mix. I like just grabbing files and having no official record of who and what I am. Even if you “fake them out” and type in ASDF or QWERTY instead of your real name, it still feels like an invasion of my pseudo-Internet privacy.
Has anyone else noticed that MPEG-4 companies are planning to start charging people for using their decoding technology? Some people charge for an encoder, but a decoder? That’s new. It is no wonder that people jump into the codec bed with Microsoft. They don’t charge for decoding and playback, at least not yet. There is also a rumor that MPEG-4 licensers may want to charge a “usage fee” for playback, which in essence means metered payment for streaming media. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anybody to have to pay 3 cents a minute to view a HALO movie. I’d rather just download an AVI and play it locally. We’ll just have to see how this pans out, but things are not looking too rosy for standardization right now.
Sniveling About Searches
Speaking of greed, have you heard about the plan that Yahoo has to charge money for searches? These pay-per-view searches would initially be limited to “research” documents, like those that businesses and medical companies might take advantage of. If you want the good links, you will have to pay for them. What happens if the results they bring back are not relevant or doing give you what you need in terms of content? Do you still have to pay your 2 dollars? It is bad enough that some search engines let companies pay them for placement, but this one takes the cake.
At least we still have Google. They are a pure search engine with sponsored links at the top of the page. I have no problem with this, as it does not affect your search and costs you nothing. It is little more than product placement, and given the nature of detailed searches, may even be helpful because each placement can be tailored to your specific content. Google clearly identifies the links at the top and sides as being sponsored links, and you can choose to ignore them at your leisure. As long as they don’t start using ad banners made with Macromedia Flash, then I don’t think it will bother me much.
I have to say, I really like the new box sizes used in EA titles like Serious Sam The Second Encounter, Medal Of Honor Allied Assault and the re-release of Alice (at $19.99 no less!). These smaller boxes are still substantial enough to package your CD with some good manuals while showing off the graphics on the back and accommodating an informational flap in the front. I like them a lot better than the DVD cases that are used for some games. They are more of an evolution than a real change, and the more games they can slap up on the shelf, the more choices consumers like you and me will have.
SIDEBAR: What do you think of Kyodai? Pretty cool? How about the whole Broadband mess? Do you think that the RIAA is just shooting itself in the foot with this new copy protection scheme? What are your thoughts the MPEG-4 licensing issue?
Let us know what YOU think in the Comments Section!