Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Update on Amazon MP3

Amazon just emailed me that they had verified this bug and that they are working on fixing it. In the meanwhile, they are reimbursing me for the album I bought. That's good customer service! I hope that they fix the problem soon because I want that album and probably others. Now if they also offered AAC...

Unsolicited Advice, IV: How to Be a Good Graduate Student

Unsolicited Advice, IV: How to Be a Good Graduate Student: Past installments of Unsolicited Advice dealt with such mechanical topics as how to choose an undergraduate school or graduate school, or how to get into graduate school. (Hell if I know how to get into undergraduate schools.) Now we step fearlessly into somewhat more treacherous territory: how to be a good graduate student. As always, this is one idiosyncratic viewpoint, and others should be offered in the comments. (Via Cosmic Variance.)

Excellent advice. Even though it is from the point of view of physics graduate study, it applies well to computer science.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Possible bug in Amazon's music downloader

When I downloaded that Anouar Brahem album using Amazon's custom album downloader, somehow the tracks were stored at 160kb MP3 instead of 256kb MP3, the advertised compression rate. This puzzled me for a while, but I suspect that it may be a bad interaction with my iTunes CD import settings, which are 160kb AAC. Somehow, the Amazon downloader seems to have grabbed that rate and used it for my downloads, even though MP3 rates and AAC rates have nothing to do with each other. I've reported the problem to Amazon, I'll blog when I hear from them.

This is not surprising, it's a beta after all.

★ The Amazon MP3 Store and Amazon MP3 Downloader

★ The Amazon MP3 Store and Amazon MP3 Downloader: The new Amazon MP3 Store looks like no previous iTunes Store rival. The music is completely DRM-free, encoded at a very respectable 256 kbps, includes a ton of songs from major record labels, and offers terrific software support for Mac OS X. (Via Daring Fireball.)

I browsed around a bit in jazz and African music. Much interesting backlist material, but it lacks more recent work by favorite artists like David Holland our Toumani Diabaté. Surprisingly, for another favorite artist, Anouar Brahem, it has a several albums that I didn't know about, including a 2006 issue from ECM that I had missed!

I would prefer 160 or 192kb AAC rather than 256kb MP3, to save space on my iPod. But it is notable that finally we have a large catalog, non-subscription, non-DRM, non-proprietary online music store. I'll buy that Brahem album to test it out, and I'll keep paying attention. This could be finally the beginning of what we've been waiting for since the late 90s.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Search Quality is Brand Quality

Search Quality is Brand Quality: Greg Linden points to 'The Effect of Brand Awareness on the Evaluation of Search Engine Results', a paper by Bernard J. Jansen et al:

[...] Based on average relevance ratings, there was a 25% difference between the most highly rated search engine and the lowest, even though search engine results were identical in both content and presentation. We discuss implications for search engine marketing and the design of empirical studies measuring search engine quality.[...]

Greg summarizes some of the implications of branding with respect to competition in the search space. However, one might also consider branding in the context of a single provider. [...] Consider the challenge ahead of companies like Powerset and Hakia - which are attempting to bring another fundamental shift to search. Much of the criticism has been leveled at assumed issues with the technology. However, this is not the only battle ground. Establishing brand where there is none is a huge barrier to entry.

The cited study implies nothing of the kind. It ignores the well-known effect that when everything important (in this case, actual differences among search results) is removed from a stimulus, other variables that are still present dominate the response, even though those variables might be masked in a realistic situation. That is, the experimental design assumed but did not test additivity. A good study would have presented all combinations of brand and objective (double blind) search quality to the subjects. Then we would really know how much brand biases assessment of search quality.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Extreme functional programming

Mathematical Markings:

The Y Combinator.jpg (Via The Loom.)

I'm fond of the Y combinator myself, and of Shannon's entropy, ... but this is a kind of dedication that I can't understand. On the other hand, two knee surgeries from skiing are probably more interference with bodily integrity than many of these self-decorators would accept...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Doc Searls: don’t count on ads

Doc Searls: don’t count on ads: Because I am always behind reading my feeds (aren’t you?) I only just read this post by Doc Searls from a week ago. Coming from a slightly different angle, using his increasingly valuable VRM argument, Doc’s “Toward a New Ecology of Journalism” arrives at a similar place to where I ended up earlier this week in the Times Select discussion:

…The larger trend to watch over time is the inevitable decline in advertising support for journalistic work, and the growing need to find means for replacing that funding — or to face the fact that journalism will become largely an amateur calling, and to make the most of it.

This trend is hard to see. While rivers of advertising money flow away from old media and toward new ones, both the old and the new media crowds continue to assume that advertising money will flow forever. This is a mistake. Advertising remains an extremely inefficient and wasteful way for sellers to find buyers. I’m not saying advertising isn’t effective, by the way; just that massive inefficiency and waste have always been involved, and that this fact constitutes a problem we’ve long been waiting to solve, whether we know it or not.

Google has radically improved the advertising process, first by making advertising accountable (you pay only for click-throughs) and second by shifting advertising waste from ink and air time to pixels and server cycles. Yet even this success does not diminish the fact that advertising itself remains inefficient, wasteful and speculative. Even with advanced targeting and pay-per-click accountability, the ratio of ‘impressions’ to click-throughs still runs at lottery-odds levels.

…The result will be a combination of two things: 1) a new business model for much of journalism; or 2) no business model at all, because much of it will be done gratis, as its creators look for because effects — building reputations and making money because of one’s work, rather than with one’s work. Some bloggers, for example, have already experienced this….

Just don’t expect advertising to fund the new institutions in the way it funded the old.

I think this is right, though the long-term-ness of the vision will have most hard-hearded business people smirking their disbelief as they point to corporate-media revenue numbers with long strings of zeroes dangling from them.

Great observations. We need news. We read news all the time. We just don't have a good way to pay for that need. I agree that direct advertising revenue may not be able to provide full support for high-quality news. On the other hand, if all news disappeared tomorrow, we'd have to find a way to make them come back, just as if all search engines or DNS disappeared tomorrow. Much internet traffic (not by volume, but by attention) involves news. So, those who benefit from that traffic — ISPs, search engines, social networking sites — better find ways to keeps news going. Some form of advanced syndication may be important here. The fact that search engines are increasingly making deals with news providers like the AP suggests that they see this.

Monday, September 10, 2007

iPhone critique

more thoughts on the new mobile: The worst feature by far (ignoring being forced to use one carrier) is the glacial molasses-in-January EDGE wireless service from AT&T. Don't even think of using the web browser using EDGE unless you have pressing needs to see one page (I'm talking about 1-2 minutes for a NY Times page to render). Performance in WiFi is spiffy - so it isn't the device. If you really need on-the-go web, forget this until a 3G alternative arrives. (Via tingilinde.)

EDGE seems to compete with other network uses in a really bad way. On my T-Mobile data service I sometimes get decent Web performance, but it becomes useless at busy times in places where there are a lot of calls going on, for instance airports. Packet losses of over 50% and ping times of over 5 seconds are not unusual in those situations.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

TR: Argentina and Chile

Here are some of the photos and a movie with some more explanation.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

After ditching Apple, NBC opts for flex pricing and more DRM with Amazon

After ditching Apple, NBC opts for flex pricing and more DRM with Amazon: Showing us that it's not all about Hulu, NBC inks a download deal with Amazon just days after the public spat between Apple and NBC. What's Unbox got that Apple doesn't? Flexible pricing and less "flexible" DRM. (Via Ars Technica.)

Why am I not surprised?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Using as a Writing Summarization Tool

Using as a Writing Summarization Tool: Jeremy Zawodny:

It occurs to me that with a sufficient number of people bookmarking an article and selecting a short passage from it, I have a useful way to figure out what statement(s) most resonated with those readers (and possibly a much larger audience). It’s almost like a human powered version of Microsoft Word’s document summarization feature.
(Via Daring Fireball.)

Training material for automatically-trained document summarizers?

Music Subscriptions, DRM, and iPods

Music Subscriptions, DRM, and iPods: Music producer and would-be savior of the record industry Rick Rubin, in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine:

Quoted already in my earlier post on this topic.
[...] But here’s the problem with subscription-based music: you can’t have it without DRM. Because without DRM, what’s to stop someone from subscribing for one month, downloading every song they might ever want, then unsubscribing but keeping the music? And the thing with DRM is that people hate it, because it restricts what they can do and where they can play their music. To argue that subscriptions are the future of music is to argue that DRM is the future of music, and the evidence points to the contrary. (Via Daring Fireball.)

Exactly. It's not only wasteful and impractical as I noted before, it's also anti-user.

Argentina and Chile

Here's selection of photos from my recent trip, unedited and with minimal commentary. I may be able to put together a more detailed report later.

Execs: Future of music is subscription

Execs: Future of music is subscription: Rick Rubin, founder of Def Jam Recordings and now co-head of Columbia Records, is arguing that the future of music sales lies in a direction beyond the iPod and iTunes. In his conception, people would pay for subscriptions, but with more generous options than available on the likes of Napster.

You'd pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you'd like," he says. "In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere. The iPod will be obsolete, but there would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home.
(Via MacNN.)

The big jukebox in the sky. Didn't we hear that before from the telecoms sometime back in the late 90s? Mr. Rubin doesn't raise the obvious issues that killed the idea before, not does the NYT's reporter.

  • The device and communications costs of getting digital music on demand to devices, especially portable devices, over the air is always going to be much higher than downloading over wired connections and storing on memory. As anyone who has a digital wireless data plan in the US knows, you pay a lot for mediocre service; even in the most advanced wireless countries, the situation is not much better.
  • The music industry resents Apple, but Apple is a pussycat compared with the telecom oligopoly that it would have to depend on for wireless on demand distribution. Apple may have current market dominance, but it has many serious and deep-pocketed competitors like Microsoft. The telecoms have locked up the spectrum in Washington, and they will continue to extract monopoly rents from it for the indefinite future.

The fact is, the music industry has lost control of the means of distribution, and it will never regain it. Its current form was an accident of physically embodied sound reproduction. The music industry should try to learn from some of the more clued in content producers in news -- the wire services -- who are finding new distribution and revenue means for their content by striking deals with search engines like Yahoo! and Google.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Tale of the Mechanical Virus

The Tale of the Mechanical Virus: Sean McBride:Soon afterwards, I noticed that other people’s Macs were refusing to project as well. Person after person would plug their Mac into the projector, but to no avail. What was even stranger was that the affliction only seemed to affect Mac users. PC laptop users laughed at us as they projected with impunity. (Via Daring Fireball.)

Back from South America

Returned yesterday from skiing on six mountains, scoring some memorable descents, taking lots of pictures (to be posted), and carrying a definitely not pleasant respiratory bug now being subdued by modern pharma thanks to a great new medical service, Penn Urgent Care.

One lesson from this trip is that if it feels worse than a typical cold, it could be or become pneumonia, and that the lowered blood oxygen from the condition doesn't mix with high-altitude steep skiing. (Low oxygen is supposed to affect first basal ganglia circuitry involved in complex motor decision-making). A big bruise on my left shin proves the point.