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March 27, 2005

iPod on Classics

The reference work for the development of the CD was allegedly Beethoven's Ninth Symphony; the reference work for the development of MP3 was Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner". And therein lies a world of difference. This week, the Wall Street Journal reported on how the digital music revolution is working out for classical fans -- not very well, as it turns out.

Online music retailers (i.e., Apple) have been slow to add classical selections to their catalogs, of course, and the gaps players insert between tracks are surely irritating for classical listeners. The article doesn't feature any comments about the suitability of MP3 compression to classical music, which surprises me; it's the most common complaint I've heard among classical fans.

But the more interesting problem the article raises for me is the way MP3 players (both hardware and software) are optimized for pop music. The IA paradigm of pop music (artist, album, track) doesn't exactly map to classical: the album is not necessarily the appropriate higher-order element for the track, and a vital piece of metadata, the composer, is ignored entirely.

MP3's ID3 metadata format allows most of this data to be captured, but players generally don't allow you to see these additional fields, never mind organize your music according to these characteristics. The WSJ piece talks about some of the metadata hacks classical fans have come up with in order to access their music in meaningful ways within the iPod's strict artist/album/track hierarchy.

The success of the iPod is due in no small part to Apple's refusal to overload it with features. But it seems like there ought to be a way for the iPod to support the very different information and interaction model of this audience. And if Apple won't do it, I wonder if there's a market opportunity for a competing player optimized for classical music listening -- like the Pez players, carving out a competitive niche by going places Apple can't or won't.

[Update: Dan Says in the comments that you can indeed browse by composer on the iPod, but not by default. I found some advice on MP3 tagging for classical fans that confirms this, but the article says you can't browse by composer in iTunes, which isn't exactly true -- you can right-click the column headings to configure which fields are displayed. So it seems at least some of the functionality is there, if somewhat hidden.]

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March 26, 2005

I have to say I really like the idea of Pez MP3 players. They may be the first entry in the category that could carve out a comfortable niche in the face of the iPod juggernaut. I can't imagine supplementing my iPod with an iPod Shuffle, but I could totally see myself picking up one of these. Now if they only dispensed candy too...

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March 25, 2005

Semantic Link Styling

I really like what Rebecca's doing with link colors on her site. As a blogger, I've always struggled with balancing between providing enough links to orient a reader to a potentially unfamiliar subject and the danger of overloading a post with so many links that it's hard for the reader to pick out the part I really wanted them to see.

Rebecca's solution is elegant -- and importantly, doesn't go overboard with semantic link styling for its own sake (i.e., different styles for a dictionary entry, a Wikipedia link, a news article, etc.), but just focuses on a few categories that really support the reader: gold indicates "here's what I've written before about this", gray indicates "here's some background if you need it", and blue indicates "this is the link you need to click to understand this entry".

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Help the Decemberists!

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March 24, 2005

Remember the FBI's "train wreck in slow motion", the $170 million project to modernize the agency's information systems that resulted in software that just plain wouldn't work? Now InfoWorld has a special report on what went wrong, and it's a sadly familiar tale: a "boil the ocean" project approach, constantly changing requirements, and the organization itself shifting under their feet.

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March 22, 2005

When customer profiling goes wrong, the results can be catastrophic. [via girlhacker]

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March 18, 2005

Free as in beer

Adaptive Path 4th Anniversary Party
Thursday, March 24
5:30 pm until the cops show up
Adaptive Path World Headquarters
363 Brannan Street, San Francisco (between 2nd and 3rd in SoMa)
Free food and drink

Hope to see you there!

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March 17, 2005

Why are weblogs dominated by men? Linguist Deborah Tannen may have the answer.

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March 16, 2005

Next year, Microsoft plans to release six new font families designed for high readability on-screen. Consolas, in particular, looks like it may be the text-editing font I've been yearning for (but why isn't there a numeral 1 in the sample text?!?). Don't believe the Mac-compatibility FUD in the article -- OS X handles Windows fonts just fine, and I can't imagine that Microsoft wouldn't bundle these fonts with all their Mac products (as has been their practice for years now).

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March 14, 2005

Bruce Sterling on SXSW and, in particular, his now-legendary clsoing parties: "You know the way bloggers go ape when they discover a gay prostitute in the White House press corps? It's just like that, except with beer."

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