New music rundown

A few noteworthy developments in digital music this morning. First, one that I failed to note from last week: Beck has released a new EP, called “Hell Yes.” It’s odd, but I don’t really like him coming back to this style after seeing what he can do in more traditional forms on Sea Change. Or maybe I’m just getting too old to do the Beck nonsense groove. Or maybe he is.

On a better note, a rare Elliott Smith EP, the UK release of “Speed Trials” featuring that song, an alternate version of “Angeles,” and “I Don’t Think I’m Ever Gonna Figure It Out,” is available from iTunes today.

Also in the iTunes store: looks like Warner is finally making their part of the Elvis Costello discography available, starting with the oddly brilliant Spike and the oddly uneven Mighty Like a Rose.

And in the interests of free downloads (and old news that I’m just getting around to finding out about), there’s a free 13-track compilation from Universal Motown in the iTunes store. So far pretty straightforward listening, but I’m excited about the Scissor Sisters track (if not the Michael McDonald one).

There are starting to be some interesting back catalog additions to the iTunes store, too, including some of the K Records stuff that was added to eMusic last week; some key Miranda Sex Garden albums; a classic Ofra Haza album; and a bunch of original and posthumously released Tim Buckley recordings.

Speaking of free, I didn’t get to go to the Low show this weekend in Somerville, but Bradley’s Almanac did, and he has an excellent review (plus samples!) at his blog. He’s got a good selection of other concert recordings too…

Finally, the music blog rundown: it looks like Doveman is shuttering the Wednesday Morning Download column for Salon in favor of a coming-soon-now actual music blog. And 3Hive is doing some really good music blog work.

What’s the temperature, Kenneth?

Growing up, I used to start every day by looking at the outdoor thermometer that hung on my parents’ bedroom window. In retrospect, it was an odd thing to do, because frankly the temperature in Newport News never varied that much, but it was comforting to have objective evidence of how hot or cold it was.

That’s the only thing that explains our latest household gadget: an Oregon Scientific Cable-Free Thermometer. It comes in two pieces, a base station with a large digital display containing two temperature readouts, and a remote unit that’s meant to be mounted outdoors or placed in some other remote location. In between is nothing but a 433 MHz radio signal.

The base station can support up to three of these remotes, so when we build on to the house and add that wine cellar (heh), we can track the temperature there as well as outside. And the frequency doesn’t interfere with cordless phones or WiFi.

So far everything has been working just fine with the unit. I haven’t tested the claimed 100′ range yet, since the best mounting place for the remote (which apparently shouldn’t be too exposed to the elements) turns out to be the outside of the kitchen wall near where the base station is sitting. We also haven’t had any extreme temperature days; since Friday, when the unit arrived, we haven’t even had a day in the 20s. But it’s nice to know what’s going on outside.

RSS business model: value added content distribution

A few months ago, I had lunch with a senior associate at Highland Capital Partners. He asked me what I thought the business model was in RSS and other XML-based syndication technologies. I was able to come up with a few off the cuff, most revolving around the fact that RSS is a new information distribution channel, and one that, like email and the Web, opens up new definitions of what information is and how you receive it.

The proof of that business model came in the last week, with new aggregator products from Consenda and the apparent acquisition of Bloglines by

Consenda’s NewsPoint appears to offer newspapers a chance to grab a piece of the RSS ads market. By providing the newspaper’s readers with an easy to use newsreader that already subscribes to the newspaper’s RSS feeds, including the classified feeds, Consenda gives the readers access to the RSS value proposition, and gives the newspaper a flanking defense against services like Craigslist which threaten to disembowel their classified ads business. The success of the model, of course, will lie in whether Consenda is successful enough in adding additional value to the basic RSS aggregator offering and lowering the barrier to entry enough to convince people to keep using their aggregator.

The Bloglines/AskJeeves story is more interesting. Here the value add of Bloglines over just spidering web content appears to be their existing structured database of blog content—at least according to Mary Hodder at Napsterization. The value add that Bloglines brings to the table comes from the fact that it’s a centralized service with a database driven by the users’ preferences. Bloglines’ Top Blogs and Most Popular Blog Links (both of which the new Ask Jeeves blog links to) are made possible by the centralization of this service, and serve as a filtering mechanism for the Bloglines users. So you could argue that the main business function that Bloglines serves is a kind of automated editorial function—where editorial means content selection and promotion, though in this case the mechanisms that govern the content selection are entirely user driven.

So this gives two RSS business models so far:

  1. Enablement: Build a better/easier/faster aggregator and the world will beat a path to your door. This is the traditional Microsoft model—it’s a platform play. This is also the space in which NetNewsWire, RSS Bandit, Radio Userland, etc. are currently operating.
  2. Content discovery: Add value by reducing noise and bringing interesting content out of the blogosphere for the reader. This is the business model that is shown through the Bloglines functions I mentioned above.

There are more value propositions to be had from RSS, of course; enough that I’ll spend some more time this week blogging them.

The Gmail Meme

I haven’t used my Gmail account much—not that that stopped some email virus from using it as a return address—so I only have 10 invitations to give out, rather than the 50 that seem to be the rule everywhere else.

If you want a free Gmail account, just leave a comment on this message or contact me. (Reposted from yesterday afternoon, since it’s disappeared).


I haven’t written about eMusic for a while, but this week I’m feeling much more charitable about the service. Chuffed, even. Because while for several months I’ve been filling my 40 download a month quota by digging through the Fantasy Records back catalog (not that that’s bad, but honestly it gets monotonous after a while to hear only really good jazz!), this week I checked and was thrilled to see a bunch of releases from Ryko had been added to the service. Including, thank you very much, Mission of Burma’s Vs., some early Replacements, and the entirety of Frank Zappa’s recorded works. Now if they’d just put up the early Elvis Costello releases, which as far as I can tell aren’t on any of the download services yet, my bliss would be complete.

It also looks like K Records, the oddly brilliant Olympia label, has been added, meaning that a bunch of Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Dub Narcotic Sound System, and Halo Benders albums are available, as well as Beck’s brilliantly lo-fi folky One Foot in the Grave.

The best part, of course, is that 40 tracks for $9.95 a month is about four times cheaper than buying the albums on iTunes (and the downloads are 128 to 192 bit MP3s), and buying a booster pack of downloads is an equivalent bargain. The only challenge will be pacing myself.

The Emperor has no adware

DivisionTwo: Mac Mini: The Emperor’s New Computer. I can’t tell whether the reviewer (Jorge Lopez, MCSE) is for real or not. Some of his complaints seem to be ones that a user would have: “Oh, did I forget to mention that the Mini has no PCI slots either?  … No keyboard or mouse either. Sorry, Kayla, daddy’s got to make another trip to Best Buy before you can play with your new computer.”

But then we get to the rest of the article, which—well, let’s take it point by point:

  • its sleek look comes at the expense of the parallel port, serial ports, the PS/2 ports and the drive bays“… Erm, the what, what, and what? With USB and Firewire, who the hell cares? Even on the PC front, I’m pretty sure that all the peripherals in most users’ hands at least speak USB. And drive bays? There’s a very nice combo/Superdrive there. Surely you didn’t have something else in mind, Jorge?
  • And no floppy disk drive”…Oh no you didn’t (oh snap, etc.). Surely we’ve put this particular canard to bed by now. There are these little things called USB keychains, Jorge. They’re practically giving them away with every Best Buy purchase, and they hold between 32 MB and 512 MB of stuff. You know, between about 30 and 500 floppies. And they fit in your pants pocket. You might want to look into them.
  • During normal operation the unit makes no sound whatsoever.  This could make it very difficult for a novice user to know whether or not the computer is on.”… There are some of us who are slowly losing midrange hearing from constantly running fans etc. that actually kind of like a silent computer, Jorge.
  • It turns out the Mini uses a weird kind of display connector on the back that requires a special adapter if you want to plug it into a PC monitor…” Yes, it does. It uses a weird kind of display connector, called DVI, that’s also available on PCs from most major manufacturers, including Dell, HP, and on cards from ATI and Radeon.
  • there is no Outlook Express for email, but Apple includes a program called Mail, which is like a stripped-down email client that can’t execute scripts or open attachments without user intervention.” You know, Jorge, I might call that a feature. A security feature. As an MCSE, you might want to look into that too.
  • Essentials such as a defragmenter or a or registry cleaner are notably absent”. That could be because the Mac doesn’t have a registry that can become polluted over time with excess information, and doesn’t need a defragmenter. (Okay, the jury is still arguing about that last one.)
  • “In today’s climate of non-stop worms, trojans and viruses, releasing a computer with no virus removal software is irresponsible on the part of Apple.” Unless, of course, few to none of those viruses are targeting Apple’s platform. Not saying the Mac is immune from viruses, just pointing out that the chances of any Mac user getting infected are vanishingly small, compared to the estimated 30 seconds till infection that an unprotected Windows PC can expect when you connect it to the Internet. (Oh, and more importantly imho than a virus removal program, the Mac does come with an industrial strength configurable firewall.)
  • Applications are a whole other category, because the issues he calls out are pretty easy to refute:
    • no Mac version of WeatherBug to check the temperature anywhere in the world”… Well, there’s Or there’s any one of these nifty utilities.
    • Or any equivalent of the DealHelper software I use to keep track of my password”… It’s called Keychain and it ships with the OS. And has for about seven years.
    • My Office 2003 CD would not install…” Um, look at Mac Office 2004, from the same company.

Then he hits the point that makes me think he was laughing up his sleeve the whole time, or else is just hopeless: “When I consider that a good deal of my time is spent running applications like Disk Defragmenter, Scandisk, Norton AV, Windows Update and Ad-Aware–none of which are available for the Mac platform”… Huh. That’s funny, Jorge. A good deal of my time is spent running Word, Excel, Mail, and my web browser. You know, actually getting work done.

There are definitely things about the Mac mini that might trip up a novice user coming over from the PC world, but this list isn’t it.

Update: Erm, based on the reaction to the article on MeFi, I might have risen to the bait of a satire post. I guess that will teach me to blog before my sixth cup of coffee of the day.

Side note: repeating posts

Apologies to those of you who are seeing posts twice, or are trying to open posts from my RSS feed and not finding them. There appears to be a problem with my site in which some posts just don’t get saved correctly. I’ll try to look into it.

Ed Harcourt: Strangers

Ed Harcourt wants to be tough but he can’t help it—his heart is right out there on his sleeve. His new album, Strangers, is just now getting its US release after several months of worldwide availability (see an earlier Blogcritics review by one of our Italiian correspondents), and it’s the evidence that our Ed is a softie—it’s an album full of shimmering gentle love songs with an occasional hard rocking ringer thrown in.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t have a sharp edge to his tongue. He gets off some good one-liners to the tenderest of his melodies, “This One’s For You,” including the fine “I’d wear you on my arm like a brand new scar.” (Try that one as a pick up line sometimes.) Sometimes it works, as in “This One’s for You”; sometimes the images get a little thick, as in “Loneliness.”

Harcourt apparently isn’t totally comfortable with the intimacy he offers on songs like “Something to Live For.” The listener is ultimately kept at bay by gestures like the rocking “The Storm is Coming,” which is a fine song but seems out of place here, and the bitter “Only Happy When You’re High,” a US-release only bonus track. Maybe Harcourt’s getting the rocking out of his system on other projects like his new band Wild Boar will lead to a less hedged performance on his next album. I’ll be listening.

This post originally appeared on BlogCritics.

Egosurfing MSN style

Dave goes ego-surfing in new territory: the fresh-out-of-beta MSN Search. I’m the first Tim Jarrett in MSN Search, but not the first Tim—by a long shot. In fact, I first show up on the second page of results for Tim.

Interestingly, I turned up a new Internet doppelgänger on MSN Search. This other Tim Jarrett does web design, web development, and computer repair, is about eight years younger than me, and based in Michigan. Sadly, he was smarter than me and snagged a domain name that has a bit of portability.

That makes two Internet alter egos for me. My Googlegänger is a physics grad student at Oxford, and is from a very different branch of the family (judging from his photo). Weird that there are three “Tim Jarretts” in my generation, whereas I’m unaware of any in my family tree going back to the 18th century before that (not counting my second cousin Tim).

Incidentally, you can also go ego-surfing on Technorati’s tag pages. Occasionally you can hit a point where your posts are front and center, as I did today on the Mac and America tag pages. I think I still show up on the latter. I do like that, with a tag that broad, you get a full spectrum of posts, including a few from my Boston conservative gadfly commenter.

On death, destruction, voting, and hope

A conservative reader just challenged me (in the comments to this post) to respond to a quotation from an anti-war activist that was printed in NewsDay:

“If the election touches off even greater violent conflict, engaging U.S. troops even more,” said Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of the Manhattan-based anti-war group known as United for Peace and Justice, “that could be a kind of shot in the arm for us.

“Even if the election is considered ‘successful,’ but our troops remain on the ground [for a long time], that, too, would call into question the purpose of our presence. Either way …”

First, let me say, as I said in the comments, that you should never assume that one liberal speaks for all of us, just as I’m working on never assuming that all conservatives think alike.

Second, I am glad that any elections at all happened in Iraq that were more open than those under the previous regime, and I hope—with all the purple-fingered voters of Iraq—that the elections are a sign of better things to come.

Third, because I am glad and I hope does not mean that I forfeit my right and duty as a citizen to ask questions. Such as: we have now completed the elections, the last rationale for our presence in Iraq (after WMDs were proved not to exist), but the country is still wracked with unrest. Does the President have a plan for continued US presence after the elections? If so, for how long? If anything, the early reports after the voting suggest that we now have two large groups in Iraq: moderates and radical fundamentalists, where the moderates are willing to give democracy a shot and the radicals reject it out of hand and are willing to use violence to prevent its taking effect. Is our mission now to stamp out radical Islam? Is that an achievable goal? Are our troops ever coming home?

Last, regarding the post on which this comment thread started. For the sake of my gay and lesbian friends, I don’t ever make the mistake of taking lightly people who reject their claims for fair treatment, tolerance, and equal protection. Because I think that in a democracy, the civil rights of the individual citizen are the most precious thing we have and that they must be protected.