More market inequities: the UK iTunes Music Store

A while ago I wrote about arbitraging the iTunes Music Store against Amazon, with a Miles Davis live album that could be bought for about 12% the cost of the Amazon version just because it only had two tracks. With the release of the European iTMSes, there’s another market inequity that becomes visible, but unfortunately it’s not as consumer friendly.

Case in point #1: PJ Harvey. The UK site has an exclusive EP for “You Come Through,” with two songs unavailable on the US store (“Stone” and “Who the F**k (4 Track Version)”).

Case #2: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Three US albums of which one is partial, vs. 9 UK albums (plus two that are remastered versions).

Other examples: the Cure (15 US, 25 UK); Genesis (14 US, 21 UK); even U2 (21 US, 41 UK — including some Achtung Baby era singles whose b-sides aren’t available anywhere else and which I’ve been trying to find for years). (It also cuts both ways; there are no Peter Gabriel solo albums currently available in the UK store.)

So what’s the problem? Credit cards work across national boundaries, don’t they? I mean, I can order from, so I should be able to order from the UK iTMS, right?

Wrong. For some inexplicable reason, my account will only work in the US store; attempting to purchase a song in the UK store redirects me to the US store, where I get told the track isn’t available. I suspect it has to do with billing address on the credit card.

Why should this be? There are no physical inventory issues—I’m sure that the files all live in the same set of servers at Akamai or wherever. So I suspect it’s the music industry’s fault. Can anyone explain the precise legal and economic issues to me? Better, can someone suggest a legal billing-address or other workaround—i.e. how does one get a credit card with a UK billing address???

On vendettas and visions of dystopia

v for vendetta

Salon: The man who invented the future. Interview with Alan Moore, writer of many “comic book” dystopias, on the odd resonances between many of his works and the current War on Terror. While normally people like to name-check The Watchmen in this context, here the interviewer (Scott Thill) accurately checks the parallels with V for Vendetta:

[Moore]: Fascism is like a hydra — you can cut off its head in the Germany of the ’30s and ’40s, but it’ll still turn up on your back doorstep in a slightly altered guise. … “V for Vendetta” has had an annoying way of coming true ever since I wrote it in the early ’80s. Back then, I wanted something to communicate the idea of a police state quickly and efficiently, so I thought of the novel fascist idea of monitor cameras on every street corner. And the book was, of course, set in the future of 1997. But by that year — and I don’t know if Tony Blair and Jack Straw were big fans, but evidently they thought its design for future Britain was a really good one — we had cameras on every street corner along the length and breadth of the country.

(Aside: I had a ridiculously large comic collection in middle and high school—one of the dubious perks of working at a comic store was not having to go very far to spend one’s paycheck—and V for Vendetta was one of the few works I kept when the rest of the collection was sold wholesale. I would love to say that I was making the connections at a young age, but I doubt I went further with it than the general affinity that the intellectual kid who gets beaten up at the bus stop feels with victims of real oppression, and the gratitude that that same kid feels to those who dramatize the exile that they feel inside. That’s not to say that I wasn’t politically conscious, just that I didn’t always go out of my way to get really informed beyond what I saw and reacted to in the news magazines. Hopefully I’ve learned a few things since then.)

I always felt that, Moore’s vision of the dystopia aside, that his character’s reaction to it—the “vendetta” of the book’s title—was profoundly unsatisfying when you got right down to it. I wonder whether this is a reflection of the sense I have that the book is trapped in British history. The first volume opens with echoes of Guy Fawkes, who is today celebrated for failing to change the order of the world in his attempt to bomb Parliament, and V’s methods don’t really move past that (except directly to murder). There’s no vision for change beyond the ending of the current order and the placing of the people’s fate in their own hands. I guess that Moore’s point was that it should end there, that solving the problems needs to be done by the people rather than by some narrator or revolutionary.

(Link via BoingBoing. More writing and analysis on the work at the V for Vendetta shrine and the annotations by Madelyn Boudreaux.)


raped at disneyland?

Just got back from the Seattle Weblog Meetup. Lots of old familiar faces there tonight—Anita has the full list. I was bummed not to see Jake there, but I got to meet Samantha, Chaz, Ian and Mary. —Yes, Ian as in Ian Spiers of fame. We all had a lot of fun taking pictures of each other and then asking each other for ID as a result. (That’s a picture of Ian to the right.) Ian described his feelings of wandering around the Ballard Locks watching other tourists happily snap photos after his encounter with The Man as feeling as though he had been “raped at Disneyland”; we promptly decided that that phrase would have made a much better title for his blog.

I also met Manuel, who actually road-tripped down to LA for the opening of the SENT exhibition. I tried not to mention the exhibition, feeling somewhat photographically overshadowed with tyd, Tara, Jeff, and Flipdingo there, but Jeff was kind about the photo. Manuel and I got into a conversation about the experience at the exhibition. (In a word: alienating unless you’re in the right crowd. And no matter how tall you think Xeni is, she’s apparently taller.)

All in all, it was a pretty good time for my last Seattle weblog meetup. But that’s a story for another time.

Transparent things

I made it to the Eastside Sing last night, where we did a quick two-hour unrehearsed run-through of the Verdi Requiem. Because my old chorus, the Cascadian Chorale, was one of the co-sponsoring groups, I also finally got my copy of the group’s CD, Premiere. Both proved to be memorable musical experiences.

The last time I sang the Verdi was with the Cathedral Choral Society in Washington, DC, in the mid-to-late 90s. There we had full orchestra, a 150-voice choir, and severely strained vocal cords—at least on my part. I was still learning how to use my voice, and four seasons singing in the highly resonant acoustic of Washington National Cathedral had grown my volume but not my control—meaning that by the time a concert rolled around I had usually taken my voice right to the edge. Last night, by contrast, felt wonderfully relaxed and I was nailing high B-flats without any problems. The difference, I think, is due to continued practice with the Cheeselords, groups in graduate school, the UPC choir, and especially with the Cascadian Chorale, whose music staff, Phillip Tschopp and Christina Siemens, taught me as much vocal technique in a single season as I had learned in the previous eight years of singing after college.

In addition to the vocal sensations, the singing last night was just fun. It was good to see some Cascadian folks again, including some soloists we had worked with before, and to sing next to Norman and Matthew.

I listened to the CD last night and this morning, and was greatly impressed. I think the long hours of rehearsal and recording really paid off. Technically the vocal work is hard to critique—maybe a little hard to hear some consonants, though that may be due to mic placement and the resonant acoustics in which we recorded. Aesthetically the sound is outstanding. I’m looking forward to picking up some additional copies to share with my family.

More Microsoft RSS: Education

New RSS feed at Education (from our Education vertical site). This feed is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it’s aimed at students and teachers rather than developers or IT professionals. Second, it’s an entirely separate effort from our automatic component-based RSS feeds; the education site team decided on their own that this would make a big difference to their customers, so they went ahead and did it. Bravo, guys. Now the only thing missing is the orange-on-white badge…

Update 7/21: The editor of the site, John Spilker, also has a personal blog where he announced this new feed. Be sure to stop by.

Happy Birthday, Dad

My dad hits one of those milestone birthdays today (the Beatles one, for those of you playing along at home). After the excitement earlier this year, it’s especially good to be able to wish him many happy returns.

Of course, today is also the 35th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing—serendipitously enough, given my dad’s thirty-something year history as a NASA employee. That (unfortunately pop-up laden) page on, in which the moon mission is discussed in the context of a return to space, carries a little of how I feel today. The significance of a birthday or anniversary like today isn’t what went before, but in what is still to come. In both cases for today, I’m feeling pretty good about what’s coming next.

Many happy returns, Dad.

I can see clearly now

After too many years of squinting and watery eyes, particularly when reading at night or looking at highway signs, I can see again. It turns out that not only had the vision in my left eye declined substantially (from a -6.5 to a -7.75, according to my contacts prescription), but my astigmatism is finally bad enough to merit correcting.

And man, these new astigmatism-correcting contacts rock. I can see my laptop screen clearly from a distance of two feet. I can read small print without squinting to keep the letters from swimming and jittering. I can see street signs before I’m right up on them. (All of which should start to sound alarming to people who have ridden in a car with me recently. I certainly am a little alarmed to realize how bad it had gotten.)

It’s a bit like the first time I got glasses. I went to an optometrist in Hampton when I was a kid, off Mercury Blvd. in a “high-rise” office (read: more than three stories). When I got that first pair of glasses on and looked out the window, I was thrilled that I could see the outlines of leaves where the trees met the sky. It had always been a fuzzy blur before.

(This, of course, is probably funny to my more conservative readers who may be itchy to make jokes about short-sighted liberalism. Let it pass, kids.)

Salumi lives up to its reputation

As promised, I finally made it (after two years) to Salumi, and finally got around to posting my writeup. It’s easy enough to find, being right across the corner from the intersection of 2nd and 3rd Avenues South. —Yes, I know, but it’s Seattle and here parallel streets are allowed to intersect. Even at 2 pm the line was out the door, so we decided to get our sandwiches to go.

The physical set-up for the restaurant is like something out of the North End. Long and narrow—just wide enough for one table for two to be separated from a four-foot-wide counter service area by a low wall, and just long enough for a counter with a window area and seating for 12 in the back. Curing salumi hung in a walk-in cooler next to the counter inside, where three different sandwich guys struggled to keep up with the line.

By the time we got there, they were out of tongue (which I was dying to try) and a few other things. But I got the culatello, which came on a crusty roll with a little olive oil and basil and some marinated onions, and was transported immediately (well, after I waited in line for half an hour and then paid) into ecstasy. The meat was lightly salted, almost sweet, with a soft mouth feel followed by a massive flavor explosion after a few bites. Unbelievable. I also picked up a hot soppressata with homemade fresh mozzarella for my drive south to Portland, which was similarly impressive—alternately hot and sweet with an assertive slightly salty body.

I once complained that there were no sammiches to be found in the Seattle area. I hereby retract that statement. There are sammiches, and world class ones, but only between the hours of 11 and 4 Tuesday through Friday in a little storefront restaurant run by a retired Boeing engineer.

(Oh, almost forgot: I had a brief conversation with Armandino himself. He asked if I was enjoying the experience, and I told him how thrilled I was to finally be there after two years. I also mentioned that I had dragged all my co-workers along so I wouldn’t be missed. He asked, “How many?” I said, “These nine folks.” He looked significantly up and down the line—at that point there were at least fifteen people waiting inside the store—and said no more. I think he was genuinely bugged to have such a big crowd, because he disappeared to the back after that exchange. —Oh well. As someone once said in another context, he doesn’t have to be the most personable host. His product speaks for itself.)

Sonic Youth, Showbox, Seattle, July 14, 2004


The Sonic Youth show in Seattle on Wednesday night was ear-splitting goodness. The show, which was a last-minute booking after Lollapalooza collapsed, was at the Showbox, across the street from Pike Place Market. The venue is small (“intimate,” I suppose, is the polite word) and lively; it’s the first place I’ve been in a long time that there was honest-to-God moshing, and where people actually remembered how to mosh in a non-destructive way—even lending a hand to take care of a geezer like me who didn’t move quickly enough out of the way.

(This brings me to parenthetical aside #1 about this show. I was smart enough to wear earplugs on the floor, just like Tom, but the complaints coming from my lower back (not new) and my knees (very new) after the show suggest that I may be getting a little old to be going to these clubs. Bear that in mind as you read the rest of the review.)

The set was very different from the 2002 Bumbershoot show. That show was heavy on hits and long, and though they engaged with the crowd they seemed a little above the fray. The Wednesday show drew almost exclusively from their last two albums—Sonic Nurse was played almost in its entirety, and Murray Street was represented by “The Empty Page” and “Rain on Tin”—though there were a couple of crowdpleasers scattered throughout the rest of the set, including a blistering run through “White Cross.” The new material came across largely as it did on the record, alternately intricate (almost REM-jangly in some places) and squalling.

One thing I noticed this go-round is that Jim O’Rourke seems much more a part of the band now. He’s still very much a quiet contributor behind the scenes, but his work on Wednesday was rock solid where two years ago he seemed a little lost in the mix. And his solid foundation, particularly on bass, left room for Kim Gordon to really step up to the mic.

In fact, it was clearly Kim’s show, from the opening vocals on “I Love You Golden Blue” through “Pattern Recognition” (which was really intense) and “Dude Ranch Nurse,” all the way through into “Kool Thing.” Nice start on the latter song, too, with the band hitting the drum and guitar chord that is held prior to starting the massive double guitar chromatic hook, all except for Thurston, who started doing some kind of two-handed fret-tapping free noise that built and built over the chord until Kim yelled something to get his attention and damped the strings with her foot in a move that was almost a spinning side kick. Then the massive double guitar chromatic hook. Since the Yoof now have a whole song on the new album to goof on Mariah Carey (the aforementioned “Mariah Carey and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream”), the Mariah rant that filled out the middle section in 2002 was replaced with a succinct and pointed W rant.

All in all the show was brilliant—a lean, mean, athletic romp through some really solid new material. The only thing that had the potential to spoil the night, which started with a burger at the Pike Place Market, was almost not being able to retrieve my car from the garage in which I had parked it. I had missed the very small sign that indicated they closed at 1:00. Fortunately, the guy in the booth cut me some slack and let me in at 1:40 to retrieve my car. It would have been a long walk home.

Peace in Portland

sky over pioneer square portland

After a really good lunch at Salumi (about which I’ll blog shortly), I drove down to Portland on Friday afternoon to spend some time with Shel and Vik. Friday night was pretty relaxing, just hanging out at the McMenamin’s Rock Creek Tavern and then swapping music recommendations until late at night.

Saturday was spent first looking at some interesting properties up on Bald Peak, then down checking out some wineries in the Willamette Valley. The big winner was definitely Laurel Ridge, whose wines (ranging from Pinots to Champenoise style sparklers to fine ruby ports) were all spectacular, full flavored, individual and wonderful.

After the afternoon’s tasting, we took a brief pause to rehydrate and then headed out to dinner at a “conveyor belt” style sushi restaurant, followed by Kill Bill Vol. 2 over beers at the Laurelhurst.

Sunday was a little more leisurely, dim sum in Chinatown followed by a quick stroll through downtown, ending (as it always does) at Powell’s, where I escaped with only one new volume, a hardback 1958 printing of Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. I then had a long, long drive back, with stop and go all the way from two miles inside the border until Tacoma.

I got some interesting pictures along the way. The album from this weekend starts at Salumi and then heads straight south, including both phonecam and CoolPix photos. In some cases, I shot the same scene from both cameras to illustrate the difference between the cameras (my new two fisted camera technique is unstoppable!). Obviously the CoolPix has the edge on resolution, by a large margin, but there’s still definitely a place for the weird, high intensity colors and impressionistic smudginess of the phonecam. Take a look at the four pairs of comparison shots.

Taking a little breather

I’m just about to head to lunch at Salumi. For those who aren’t familiar, Salumi is run by Armandino Batali, Food Network Mario Batali’s dad and retired Boeing engineer, and it’s only open for lunch four days a week between 11 and 4. Batali cures all his own meats, serves amazing Italian specialties, and you can even adopt a prosciutto. For more info, check out the drool-inducing review in the New York Times. I’ve been trying to get to this restaurant for almost two years, and finally decided that if I didn’t take time out for a long lunch today that it wouldn’t ever happen.

Afterwards, I’m driving south to visit Shel and Vik in Portland. It should be an entertaining visit, as I will be good for approximately two hours of consciousness for the whole weekend and fear that I’ll spend the rest of the time in either drooling repose or (worse) making unconscious zombie-like conversation that I won’t ever remember or understand. Thank goodness they’re old friends.

One last set of SENT links

I think this will likely be my last post about SENT for a while. Please forgive my enthusiasm; I rarely win anything, even simple things like video games, so getting my pic selected as an NPR phonecam contest winner has me a bit giddy.

  • The article and audio for the NPR discussion of the Day to Day phonecam contest award winners has been posted. Best quotation about my photo, starting at 2 minutes and 40 seconds: “Alex: It’s a fairly ordinary landscape… some very interesting shadows in the foreground… Xeni: You think of phonecams as crude devices, but the images in this photo are–they’re very saturated colors, very rich. You almost feel like you could bite into them, they’re so bright.” Lest you ever doubt your ability as a photographer, just get Xeni to describe your photos. Also, thank god it was a bright day when I took the photos, since I have absolutely zero control over exposure or saturation or anything with the camphone.
  • Another winner, Mark Beck (who took the very album-cover-looking barbed wire photo), is a photoblogger, and apparently a serious photographer. I couldn’t find any links for David Berge (pig photo) or Jim Younkin, who took my favorite of the four, the firefighter looking across at the bus.
  • Unbeknownst to me, there was also a spread about the contest in mMode Magazine (the 3G phone culture magazine of the phone company formerly known as AT&T wireless). The spread, in PDF on the SENT site, features two more of my photos.
  • In addition to Xeni, other exhibit organizers included Caryn Coleman and Sean Bonner (the collective known as Sixspace). Sean is also the creator of the wonderful mug below.