Ripping albums with a scanner

Have you ever taken an ants-eye view of a track on a familiar vinyl album and noticed that you could actually see the dynamics of the song? Then you’re probably at least 30, a geek, and once had too much time on your hands. (Me too!)

If you’ve taken for CDs for granted your entire life, move along…nothing to see here. For everybody else, Digital Needle is an ingenious open source hack for ripping vinyl albums with your scanner.

The results are incredibly poor and interesting and even a litte haunting. In order pick the music out of the cruft, be sure to listen to the original gramophone3.mp3 a couple of times first.

Less-than-amazing Gracenote

Have you ever not had to fix the metadata that your CD ripper gets from Gracenote/CDDB? Neither have I.

Besides the fact that the quality of their metadata is a crapshoot, there are other reasons that Gracenote is generally distrusted. Some don’t appreciate that they claimed all rights to a community resource built by users, and then closed it by migrating from an open to a closed API. Some find their tendency to sue firms that use FreeDB, an open equivalent, distasteful. Some find the bullying around their patent on the trival and obvious checksum method they use to uniquely identify a CD to be patently ridiculous.

No matter — Gracenote’s days are numbered. Although big companies like Microsoft use their services for identifying music ripped from CD, big companies like Microsoft are not only capable of replacing them but also highly motivated to do so. Because of Gracenote’s crude method of identifying music depends on having the CD, they’re irrelevant for music delivered online.

What will replace Gracenote? One possibility is MusicBrainz, an open source community music database. Because it can use both CD characteristics and acoustic fingerprinting to uniquely identify audio, it works no matter where the music comes from. The MusicBrainz database is mature (it’s been around since 1998), and moderators help ensure the quality of the metadata.

For those of you interested in the back-end, IBM is running an article that reviews technical aspects of MusicBrainz’s XML/RDF medtadabase, and their Compact Disc Query Proposal (CDQP) query service.

“…because slow sites suck"

Andrew King, the founder and geek-behind-the-curtain at and, has written a book on speeding up your web site with the refreshingly straightforward title of WebWord asked how he would justify the business case for site optimization, Andrew responded:

This is akin to asking what is the ROI for usability. Speed is a key component of usability. Small improvements in speed can take critical pages below typical attention thresholds, and dramatically lower bail-out rates and abandoned shopping carts. I talk about this in the book, but compression alone can save 30-50% in size and bandwidth costs. Webmasters who have employed compression and optimization typically save 30 to 50% off their bandwidth costs, and retain more customers, and have improved conversion rates.

The buzz on this book is good, and I look forward to using it to keep PlaybackTime lean and fast as I add functionality. [via Ranchero]

DVD burn-off

I needed to buy a DVD burner last week — it is the Year of the DVD Burner, after all — and unfortunately I had to do so without the benefit of the DVD burner roundup published recently by Tom’s Hardware Guide. Fortunately, I’m more confident than ever that I made the right choice.

As I’ve pointed out before, Tom’s Hardware Guide has demonstrated a disturbing lack of understanding about MPEG-4, but they understand hardware much better. The article covers these six DVD burners:

NetNewsWire 1.0 available

From browsing through the logs, I know that many of my Mac readers use the wonderful (and free) NetNewsWire Lite to read PlaybackTime. Today, Ranchero released NetNewsWire, and you can buy it right now for an introductory price of only $30. Brent has released a wonderful 1.0, and there are lots of goodies — for readers and writers — to come.

It's always amateur hour around here (thank goodness)

My friend Jonathan Peterson recently started a new blog called Amateur Hour, meant for folks who create digital media for love rather than money.

The term amateur, Latin for “one who loves”, has taken on the unfortunate connotation of un-professional or sloppy. But there is no better term for the rise of media content created with no reward beyond the basic human desire to create.

Amateur Hour will feature information (and occasionally interviews) meant to help enthusiasts use and share their creative energies.

XML turns 5

XML was born (i.e. first published as a W3C Recommendation) five years and a day ago. Two participants in that process have written a nice toast to one of the most important meta-standards of the web, or anywhere for that matter.

Five years after Apple, Dell dumps diskette drive

Dell, the canary in the coal mine of PC manufacturers, has started to phase out diskette drives on their desktops. Unless they ask for them, customers won’t have a place to stick their floppy in their shiny new top-o’-the-line (“Dude! I’m gettin’ a”) Dimension PCs.

Apple stated phasing out diskette drives in desktops in 1998, with the introduction of the iMac (which also replaced serial and Apple’s proprietary ADB ports in favor of USB). But that was then, and this is now, and Apple is lagging behind the industry on USB 2.0.

Dell plans to migrate its stupid customers — the ones who haven’t quote caught on that CD-Rs hold 640 MB and cost a quarter — to $20, 16 MB USB “memory keys”. Why, gimmie a box of ten! (Thanks, Kevin!)

The future of broadband is…copper POTS?

POTS is industry jargon for Plain Ol’ Telephone Service — the kind that comes to your home via copper wire that may be older than you are.

Fiber to the home was supposed to be the path to digital media nirvana. But that was a meme borne during the dot-com bubble, and it turns out that replacing the U.S.’s 1.5 billion miles of existing copper lines might be not only fiscally irresponsible, but also not necessary.

Tests in engineering labs and in a handful of areas around the country are yielding Internet connection speeds five to 50 times as fast as what is now considered “broadband” digital-subscriber-line service offered over phone lines.

Which is good, since John John M. Cioffi, a professor of engineering at Stanford University and one of the country’s foremost experts on DSL technology, notes:

Even if [the phone companies] had the money, the labor is exhaustive. Realistically, fiber could be a century away.

Wow. “Not in your lifetime” estimates are kind of depressing, aren’t they?

The article also notes that, in the U.S., 9.4 million subscribers get broadband over cable, and 5.4 million over DSL.