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Archive for March 2006

strung out

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Spring is here, allegedly, but you wouldn’t know it from the weather we’re having. The temperature has been hovering between freezing and about 6°C for about a month, with the warmer times bringing rain and occasional sleet. One aspect of a coastal climate: the base temperature is moderate, and doesn’t change that quickly, with all the water around us.

It took a long time for real winter to set in last year – it didn’t get this cold until later December – and it’s taking a long time for the cold to leave. It’s most obvious at home, in my flat on the top floor of the building with the poorly-insulated roof. The cold is in the walls, and electric heaters only partly relieve it, at great expense. I don’t remember a Winter this persistent for years.

I have a flying trip to London coming up next weekend, to meet up with old school friends, get a dose of culture (Tate Modern etc.), and some shopping. I’ve been threatening to buy a new main bass, for the first time in years. My current main instrument dates back to 1987 or so, and is definitely showing its age. It’s a 5-string bass that is not much use as a 5-string, since the low B is flappy and wooly, no matter what strings I put on it. It currently has marvellous (and expensive) roundcore strings from Status on it, but as good as the other strings sound, the low B is not up to the job at all.

So I’m giving up: my next main bass will be a modern 4-string that benefits from the advances of the last 20 years. I particularly want to move to a 35-inch scale length, which narrows the shortlist down to just three instruments in a sensible price range. In alphabetical order:

Of those, the Ibanez is the most radical departure from my current setup, and the one I’m leaning towards. The reports I’ve read about the sound and playability are very encouraging, and I also like the clean looks. The Peavey doesn’t look as good in pictures, but I might be swayed if I get one in my paws. As for the Yamaha: I was prepared to buy one via eBay a couple of weeks ago, sight unseen, but only if the price was right. That auction went way beyond what I was prepared to pay for an unseen and unheard instrument of uncertain provenance.

The major reason why I’m in the market for a more “normal” bass than my current headless instruments is an ambition to return to live playing, some time, possibly starting with a “sit-in” or two. It’s been too long, and I’ve not been encouraged by the scene here in Dublin, which reminds me of London without the variety. I recently met someone who gave me a CD I was decidedly unimpressed with, yet he is getting gigs and encouragement. I just don’t think I should try and do it by myself, and that’s about all that’s slowing things down.

Written by brian t

March 21, 2006 at 3:10 pm

Posted in music, travel

a common search

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This is an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal, about the “original content” industry. It confirms something I have long suspected, but hoped I was wrong about. (A recurring theme in my experience of the Internet.)

Google, the search engine, operates by scoring web pages using a methodology they originally called PageRank, though the actual system in use today is more complex and confidential. It provides search results based on many factors, including the uniqueness and ubiquity of references to the topic you’re searching on. It is subject to intense scrutiny by “Search Engine Optimizers”, a nascent business model that already has the abbreviation SEO.

I’ve missed out on most of this, because the kinds of things offered by scammers are not the things I ever search Google for, to put it bluntly. If I ever thought I could find Viagra(TM) or other drugs by searching Google, I would be quickly disabused of that notion; years of fighting spam email have given me a good idea of what the scams are. SEO, in my opinion, is merely an extension of spam email to search engines.

Comment Spam, Link Blogs, and so on – the tools of SEO – are ways of increasing the ubiquity of links to those “businesses”: a way to get links to your site from thousands of other sites. This site has been mostly resistant to those, because of the filters I put on comments – allowing only a couple of links, and none of the blacklisted scam keywords. I now use WordPress 2, which builds in the Akismet spamcatcher, to good effect.

The WSJ article is about the other issue, of uniqueness. As the author found, there is a sub-industry dedicated to “content creation”, where all the “author” is expected to do is make their work unique enough to pass Google’s filters. It doesn’t pay well, has no respect for copyright, and is generally an insult to any author worthy of the title.

Once again I’m reminded of the Tragedy of the Commons. Google is providing its search results at no (direct) cost to either its users or those whose pages it searches and ranks. For example, this site has been searched repeatedly, and is highly ranked for certain specialities, such as the Akai MPC1000 that I wrote a FAQ on. There is not much competition in this area, but in areas where there is, it seems that anything goes.

It might not be related to scams, exclusively – and the SEO businesses would have you believe there are legitimate applications – but I have to ask what the point is. After all, any modern business model relies on differentiation: what are you offering that someone else is not? SEOs are selling a shortcut to differentiation by putting you, and not someone else with an identical offering, at the top of the results returned by Google. Yet: if your business model is valid, by the standards imposed by e.g. a bank loan committee, you do not really need SEO, do you? Conclusion: it is not a tool for a legitimate business, yet legitimate businesses have already been caught in the act. (Why did BMW think it necessary, for example?)

In the field of internet search, where we are bombarded with Information yet starved of Knowledge, where Attention is the most limited and valuable commodity… SEO still appears, to me, incredibly shortsighted and counterproductive. I’ll stop writing and post this, before I start swearing about bottomfeeders…

Written by brian t

March 15, 2006 at 6:27 pm

blue scream

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Ever been on a train, confused about which train was moving: yours, or the one you see through the window? Here’s a modern hi-tech version of the same: waking up, on a plane, as it appears to be rebooting! I don’t think I’ll be sleeping too well tonight, thinking about my upcoming trip to Portugal…

Written by brian t

March 14, 2006 at 12:54 am

Posted in technology, travel

swallowing the tablets

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The song stuck in my head today is a new one, to me at least: Talk by Coldplay, which I only heard when it was released as a single last December. I made the mistake of playing it while walking to work this morning, and have been whistling the hook all day, much to the annoyance of my colleagues in the office. It’s so catchy I half-expect to hear it behind a phone company commercial, except that the band are decidedly against the use of their music for commercial purposes, to date that is. Right now, however, I have a Dream Theater combo of Hell’s Kitchen and Lines In The Sand at work on my auditory cortex, to burn off the Coldplay for the duration.

The last few weeks have seen a masterfully-orchestrated teaser campaign on the Internet, surrounding something called the Origami Project. This week we finally saw details emerge of the UMPC, and it is something I might buy in to, later this year. UMPC is short for Ultra-Mobile PC, and can be seen as a half-size Tablet PC. I use a Tablet PC at work, a hp tc4200, and it’s great for what it is, but it has one factor working against its use as a replacement for paper: weight. The size is less of a problem, since the 12″ screen size is a good thing.

I would probably have bought a Tablet PC, at the right price, if I hadn’t managed to persuade my boss to spend a little more for the upgrade, when we all got new notebook PCs last year. It’s small by notebook standards, yet still chunky and awkward to use in cramped location. From the time I first saw a Tablet PC at all, I always thought it would be better at half the size, and that is what is being delivered in the form of the UMPC.

It’s not all rosy, of course, starting with the question of input. If I was to try using a UMPC for any serious work, I would need to attach a real keyboard to it. I also have some sneaking suspicions about the partnership between Intel, who are responsible for the hardware design, and Microsoft, who are behind the software. I expect that the hardware will be shipped in a locked form that works with Windows only, and I also expect that an enterprising hardware hacker will crack the restrictions. Not that Microsoft will object too loudly – it gives the hackers something to do, and M$ will already have the Windows XP license fee in their pockets.

Written by brian t

March 9, 2006 at 10:39 pm

Posted in technology