Posted on September 25, 2012
Chicago teachers and the music industry share a delusional reality denial – they both think it’s a river in Africa.
Copyright law is one of the most convincing validations of the cliché, “The ways of the dollar are devious.” What else could explain the following complexities?
First, there are two kinds of music royalties. One is for the music publishers and the second is for the record labels. Music publishers represent composers and the record labels represent the “performing artists”, meaning singers and instrumentalists.
Second, conventional radio stations are required to pay music publishers, but not record labels. That’s because for the better part of a century, radio station “airtime” was the key determinant of a music track’s popularity. Thus, instead of collecting royalties from the radio stations, the record labels paid them bribes – termed payola – as an incentive to play specific tracks. When payola became illegal, it was replaced by other perquisites. Read more…
Posted on September 11, 2012
After years of experimentation, I’ve finally got a satisfying computer-to-TV set up. Now, watching Internet videos on my TV is as easy as watching them on a computer, only I get to sit sixteen feet away from the screen which I manipulate with a mouse and keyboard on the coffee table in front of my sofa. The viewing experience of movies over the Net is now indistinguishable from Cable TV. The principal Internet movie advantage is that the videos are available whenever I want them thereby emancipating me from a broadcast schedule. Moreover, the Internet has a far greater abundance of videos although recent-release movies are generally not legally among them.
This post describes my configuration in layman’s terms.
When attached to televisions, computers must also connect to the Internet. Generally this is accomplished with a wireless (WiFi) home network. WiFi is available in a number of standards, but dot-11n is the best choice for video. My WiFi router is in a home office adjacent to the living room where I do most of my TV watching. Thus, the WiFi signal in the living room is sufficiently strong to provide a good experience. If I were to try and watch Internet videos in more distant rooms, WiFi repeaters would likely be required.
My flat panel TV is a discontinued Hewlett-Packard model with three HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) sockets. They are a key feature for good computer-to-TV viewing. Most current model flat panel TVs include such sockets as pictured (although they’ll normally be labeled “HDMI In”.)
The principal HDMI advantage is that it transports both video and audio. Other sockets on older TVs normally do either one or the other, thereby requiring multiple cables to transport both picture and sound.
I’m using Apple’s MacMini for three reasons. First, since it is only about the size of a cigar box it is unobtrusive. Second, the boot-up time is much shorter than Windows thereby making Internet Video a more appliance-like experience, similar to conventional television. Third, relative to Windows, Apple computers are less likely to be targeted by malware.
Since MacMini’s have HDMI sockets, the hardware set-up is straight-forward; plug in the power cord and connect the MacMini to the TV with a HDMI cable. The MacMini automatically sensed my WiFi network and prompted me to enter the pass code. It spontaneously used BlueTooth to detect my remote keyboard and mouse, although initializing the MacMini required a corded mouse.
Display Settings Frustration
The most frustrating part of the set-up was getting the output of the MacMini to display properly on the television. Essentially, the image-footprint of the MacMini was about an inch too big around the edges. Unfortunately, that little inch was hugely consequential because it was impossible to see the menu bar along the top border of Apple programs. It was hidden behind the plastic frame of my TV.
Metaphorically, the image “footprint” of the MacMini was too big for the “shoe” defined by the physical dimensions of my TV. After about an hour on the phone with the Apple help desk trying various resolution adjustments, I was told that the problem was my television. They wanted me to buy a new TV.
I went to BestBuy to look at TVs and actually contemplated buying one, but there was a nagging doubt that it would solve the problem. A few days later my 26 year old son stopped-by for a visit. Within minutes he fixed the problem by adjusting the Mac Mini’s “Underscan” slider within “Display Options”. While he didn’t know the meaning of the term “Underscan”, he concluded, “It was the only other option to try, and presumably it was there for a reason.” While I kicked myself for not thinking the same way, it is important to note that Apple’s help desk also failed to suggest the option.
The terms “underscan” and “overscan” are obsolete and intuitively useless to most of us. They date to a time when the chief electronic display was a broadcast TV in which images are “painted” across the screen electronically in nearly parallel lines. Older readers may remember the days when television images would sometimes flicker and couldn’t be photographed by film cameras without the appearance of dark lines. A camera lens catches such dark swaths while the human eye interpolates a component part of the overall screen image.
The “test pattern” below illustrates “underscaning” in a context applicable to my computer-to-TV set up. The green area represents the size of my TV display, but the MacMini was providing an image the size of the pink border. By using the “Underscan” slider within the MacMini display settings, I proportionally reduced the computer’s “overscan” represented by the pink border, to the size of the green area. Thereafter the menu bar became visible on my TV, enabling me to navigate the computer normally.
Terms like “underscan” and “overscan” are unnecessarily geeky. If the slider adjustment were simply labeled “Adjust Display Borders” with “Larger” at one end and “Smaller” at the other, there’s a better chance that I would have figured out how to fix the problem without phoning Apple’s help desk, which didn’t know the answer anyway.
Despite the frustration for needing to learn new arcane concepts like “underscan” and “overscan”, such efforts are likely going to remain a requirement for making computers do our bidding. Nonetheless, it is disappointing that Apple’s help desk failed to suggest the “underscan” adjustment.
Except for sports programming and a couple of TV shows like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad”, I’m pretty close to discontinuing Cable TV service. While Cable operators faithfully believe sports programming is their “Ace in the Hole”, the Internet is also unexpectedly challenging that assumption. Specifically, Meet-Up groups enable spectator sports enthusiasts to watch their favorite teams in sports-bar settings with groups of fans similarly devoted to the same teams. It’s a good way to make new friends and better enjoy the games – and it does not require Cable service at home.
Posted on September 4, 2012
While the recent abrupt slowdown of personal computer sales at Dell and Hewlett-Packard undoubtedly portends major changes in the future of computing, it’s unlikely that anyone has a fully developed picture of the much discussed “Post-PC Era”. At best we can identify a number of salient characteristics that shall likely prevail.
First, desktops and laptops shall likely remain the primary tools for creating files and doing work for years to come. Examples include word-processing documents, “slide-show” presentations, building and augmenting websites, spreadsheets, and high quality video and audio productions. In contrast, smartphones and tablet computers shall become our primary means of consuming media. For example, even in the living room, iPhones and iPads enable users to view most any Internet video through a flat panel TV so long as the television is attached to a $99 AppleTV appliance. As illustrated in the chart below, new buyers of tablet computers typically spend more time doing work on their desktops and laptops while spending less time consuming media.