Saturday, June 09, 2007

iTunes Plus = Same old rubbish in new package

When I heard about iTunes Plus I was all excited. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry I had spent quite a lot of time and money on iTunes songs for my iPods over the years only to come to the sad realisation that my songs were being held hostage by Apple and their DRM rules. At the same time I had ripped all of my CDs, about 10,000 songs, to completely DRM-free and industry-standard high-quality (320 kbps) MP3 files which could be used on iPods, any other MP3 player and (of course) on our digital music library systems such as Squeezebox and Sonos. I had stopped buying and downloading songs from the iTunes stores long ago after experiencing the sour aftertaste of being ripped off.

I was all excited to learn that Apple was now going to be offering DRM-free higher-quality (256 kbps instead of their usual 128 kbps) music for sale. I was even willing to pay the higher price for what I feel I should have been sold in the first place. Although 256 kbps is still a little lower than my 320 kbps MP3 files it was certainly a quality level I was willing to live with for permanent places in our digital libraries.

I finally got around to trying it out. I went to the iTunes Plus portion of the store and I purchased the Corinne Bailey Rae album in the new iTunes Plus format. I eagerly stared at iTunes while it downloaded the files. As soon as it was done I closed iTunes and went looking for the files in my iTunes folders on the server. I naively was looking for MP3 files. Don't ask why I made this naive and, with hindsight, rather silly assumption. But I had actually assumed, for a short period of time, that I was going to be buying DRM-free higher-quality MP3 files. I found the files. They were not what I expected. They are selling what they now refer to as "Purchased AAC files" instead of the previous "Protected AAC files". Although the files are supposedly DRM-free they are in a proprietary format which is not usable by most MP3 players (portable or distributed).

Before in order to be able to properly use the files I bought from the iTunes store I would have to burn the files to an audio CD and then rip the audio CD, as I would any other audio CD, to create MP3 files. Although I would rip them at 320 kbps I was obviously not getting any better quality than my original files (128 kbps). I still had to go through a 2-stage process, as well as the cost of a blank CD, just to get the MP3 files I could use of the music I had legally purchased. The revolution of the iTunes Plus system? I still have to burn the files to an audio CD and I still have to rip that audio CD to create the MP3 files to be able to properly use them universally. I end up with a better quality file in the end (256 kbps). But this is still not as good, nor as easy, as when I rip directly from an audio CD I purchase or borrow. Again I feel as though I, the paying client, am being unjustly handicapped and I still get a better digital experience by ripping directly from audio CDs. Purchasing an audio CD and ripping it to MP3 files is supposedly illegal. Borrowing a CD and ripping it to MP3 files is certainly illegal. However, yet again, the music companies themselves have created and maintained a system whereby piracy still produces the better quality musical experience with a greater ease no matter how much the client is willing to spend to purchase music online.

Lesson learned: I have now stopped buying from iTunes again...

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Shoes From Hell

Some of you may remember my entry as regards my new shoes: Daddy Needs A New Pair of Shoes. A loyal reader of this blog, who I see every now and then, mentioned them the last time I saw her and how she would like to see what they looked like. I then realised I hadn't ever tried them on and it would be a good time to try them out. I had a 16:00 meeting yesterday and then a parents' association meeting in the evening and reckoned now would be a good time. I slipped in to them just before driving to my meeting in Paris. By the time I got to the parking lot near the meeting it had become obvious that the shoes were at least a half a size too small. They are 8 and a half D which is precisely my American shoe size right down to the D width. But, from this manufacturer, that size just is too small. By the time I left my client meeting and was driving to my parents' association meeting I was literally screaming in pain in the car. No one could hear me as I was still driving around with The Who at absolutely blaring volume with the sun roof open. People who turned their head and stared at the obnoxiously loud car going by all thought I was singing at the top of my lungs. In actual fact I was bellowing my pain to the world. I pulled in to the parking lot and wondered if I was going to be able to walk to my meeting. I got there and spent the rest of the evening downing red wine to try and numb my feet. I knew perfectly well that if I ever I took these shoes off I was never going to put them on again. I finally took them off in the parking lot and drove home in my stocking feet. I woke up this morning with two enormous blisters on my heels and my toes feeling crunched in to one big toe. Now I get a bit of a feeling of what women who wear tiny pointed-toe shoes must feel like.

I've never had any problems buying my saddle shoes on the web and I stupidly did not even try this on in America before leaving. They will now spend the rest of their shoe life in my wardrobe...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Who - (a)Live!

Through a wonderful set of circumstances I ended up with tickets to last night's concert of The Who!!!

Basically it sort of worked out like this. I'm on the phone with my favourite client on Tuesday and we're discussing plans for the rest of the week:

I don't know if we can see each other on Wednesday... I don't know if you heard but I'm going to The Who concert.

"I heard... and I want you to know I'm really jealous. I hope you have a great time... I know you're going to have a great time. Enjoy it!"

Oh yeah? Well I've got 2 extra tickets you want to come?

A certain amount of ums and ahs on my part as I'm trying to imagine Desney at a Who concert: "I'll have to check with my wife... but no matter what have a great time. You deserve it. Enjoy it!"

Have a great time? Forget that... I'll see you tomorrow!

At that point she hung up the phone and I knew I was going. I spoke to her assistant and the tickets had already been arranged.

I knew there was no way I could convince Desney to go to a Who concert. But I asked anyway just in case. Desney's reply was obvious. I next thought of my neighbour who is also a big Who fan. But I did not think her husband would appreciate my taking his wife out to a Who concert... it would also be sort of difficult to explain to "the gang" at the concert when I showed up with a beautiful woman who was not my wife. Next choice was Jessica. Jess is certainly not a Who fan by any means. But she likes lots of different types of music and she loves going to concerts. She ever so reluctantly agreed. I got her listening to The Who tracks on our music system between then and the concert. I have just about everything The Who recorded so she had a good foundation by the time we left.

I had not bought tickets myself for this particular tour as I have to admit I was a bit worried as to what a Who concert would be like with only half of The Who. Would it be half a concert? The last time I had seen The Who, which was also my first time, was in 1981 or 1982 at The Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California. This was the very end of what was supposed to be their "farewell" tour. I was so psyched to finally be seeing The Who live and as well to be one of the last to see them perform live. At the time Keith Moon had already been dead for a few years and he had been replaced by Kenny Jones. But that still left the Power Trio of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend (one of rock's greatest guitarists ever and probably it's greatest power guitarist) and John Entwistle who I believe to be rock's all-time greatest bassist. That concert started with an opening performance by a little-known UK band called The Clash. Needless to say they absolutely blew the stadium wide open and we were all primed and ready for The Who. The Who's concert was absolutely amazing, one I have never forgotten, and just seemed to last forever. I was extremely pleased to have kept my various natural chemical mixtures to a minimum that night and I remember just about everything of the experience!

Well I needn't have worried. Yes... The opening band was rather mediocre and uninspiring, everyone was certainly there for The Who and no one else, relatively few people got up out of their seats and they had replaced the faussé with seats. But the concert was amazing from the second they started. Daltrey and Townshend came out first to roaring applause and it went on from there. I spent forever screaming, shouting, screaming all the words to all the old songs as they played. They did quite a lot of the old songs from all of their earlier periods as well as from their latest album. I didn't know the words to any of the latest album songs but I was amazed I still new absolutely all the words from all of the older songs. There were a few obvious points when I just bounded out of my seat, screamed along and generally bounced along. After the first 2 or 3 notes of "Who Are You" I knew what was coming and I was up. After two notes of "Baba O'Reilly" I was ready. After two notes of "Won't Get Fooled Again" I was already in a frenzy. When "Who Are You" started I was up and dancing. Unfortunately we were in a seated area and I fear I kneed the face of the guy sitting in front of me... rather fiercely I might add. I apologised and kept going... all the time trying to avoid his head throughout the rest of the performance. These "old" guys were just downright amazing. I was worried that Townshend's partial deafness might impede upon his playing. He was tremendous. Still rocking the house and with power chords which shook the walls. Daltrey's voice is amazingly still as powerful and yet smooth as ever. It's all still there. But the real discovery for me this evening was The Who now have the best drummer they've ever had since Keith Moon. His name is Zak Starkey and he is just plain wonderful. Playing drums for The Who has got to be one of the toughest drum jobs in rock. The drums are such an integral part of so many of their songs. Starkey is the first to maintain Keith Moon's participation, without actually copying him, and especially the energy level. He made the night. He is unfortunately more known by the older crowd as Ringo Starr's son. He should just be known as Zak Starkey: Excellent rock drummer! When he's not playing with The Who you can find him playing drums for Oasis. The concert just seemed to go on forever! They played and played and I was lost in a sincerely severe case of nostalgic pleasure. I felt exactly like I was 22 years old again. It was a truly energizing experience. In the end they did 3 encores and finished with a beautiful duo with just Daltrey singing his guts out and Townshend showing how powerful an accoustic guitar can be. They had performed non-stop for two and a half hours and left the stage as champions and heros.

It turns out Jessica quite enjoyed the concert. She appeared to have a great time. We bought our obligatory T-shirts and stopped off at a brasserie across the street for a drink before heading home. I had no voice left and my throat was absolutely scorched and burning with pain. But I barely noticed it. This was an entirely new, and somewhat reminiscent, type of throat pain that did not bother me. I was actually rather pleased to have gotten to that level of experience. This pain was purely and simply from screaming, supposedly singing, my lungs out in pure happiness and pleasure for over 2 hours. This pain I could live with. I also knew that a nice cold beer or two would help soothe the immediate symptoms and in a day or two I would be back to my normal level of pain and dryness.

I discovered an interesting phenomenon at the brasserie when having our after-concert drink. We kept hearing bits of the concert popping up around us. One after the other people all around us were looking at their cell phones and watching the small videos they had recorded during the concert. It wasn't just one or two or three. We were sitting at a table on the outside terrasse. Practically every single table had at least one cell phone checking out a tiny video clip they had just recorded. Even Jessica had her 30 seconds of souvenir in her pocket. I felt extremely disappointed with my, oh so business-oriented, Blackberry, and even quite jealous that others would be going home with a few seconds of the concert in their pocket. I also quite enjoyed the feeling of somehow extending the concert up feeling for a few minutes more by sitting in a café and watching a few seconds of the experience we had all just shared.

In prepartion for the concert I had spent Tuesday night and most of the day yesterday listening to The Who blaring through my music system. I had also gone around to the various Who web sites. On The Who Tour web site they had some press interviews with Daltrey and Townshend announcing the tour. I watched a couple of these. In one of them they mentioned how they were fighting back against bootlegged copies of their concerts. They were recording and producing their own bootleg CDs and DVDs of every one of their concert tour performances and selling them on their bootleg concert web site. All profits from these sales go to charities chosen by Daltrey and Townshend. It also means that all of us can get CDs and DVDs of the concerts. I went their this morning and ordered my copy of last night's performance. I can't wait to relive the moments with Jessica at home on the TV and music system.

A night I will not forget for quite some time... I rarely feel my age... But I actually felt well and truly young again for a few hours and that is just simply priceless!