First Radiohead, then NIN…

If you haven’t been keeping up with this news lately, maybe you should. First Radiohead announced that they’d be ditching their record label and publishing their new album online. Then Trent Reznor announced that Nine Inch Nails will do the same. That’s worrying to the music industry, but not that bad. Radiohead is a great band, but they’ve never been a big seller, especially here in the U.S., and NIN only has about a dozen fans left, so the labels probably don’t give a damn where they end up.

But then Madonna went and dropped a bombshell today. She’s leaving Warner Brothers – the label she’s been on for most of her 25 year career – and signing a deal with Live Nation, the concert promotion people. Although Warner will still have the rights to her next studio album and another “greatest hits” album (as well as her entire back catalogue), Live Nation will distribute three new studio albums, have exclusive rights to promote upcoming concert tours, and exclusive marketing rights to Madonna’s name. The 10 year deal is worth $120 million for Madonna in cash and stock.

This is interesting news, not only because it’s the first time a truly huge superstar has left the traditional music industry behind, but it also reflects where the money is for the artists. Madonna’s last four albums have sold 10.4 million copies in the US. Even if Madge was getting $2 per CD sold (a completely outrageous amount, even for her), that’s “only” $20 million. In reality, she’s probably getting $1 or 75¢ per disc, so cut the $20 million number in half. On the other hand, her last three tours have netted $385 million in ticket sales, to say nothing of merchandise sales. We can assume that Live Nation will be getting a cut of Madonna’s ticket revenue under this deal, but how much is unknown at this time. What we do know is that this deal is so big that it’s driving down Warner’s stock price: Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor was the #1 selling album in the US in 2005, and without Madonna as a “marquee brand” on Warner’s roster, the label looks like a poorer investment. As of this writing, their stock is down 30¢.

Read all about Madonna’s new deal here. Oh, and Oasis and Jamerquai might be next…


Use a blocklist!

Do you use P2P applications? If you do, do you use some form of blocklist protection? If not, you might wanna check out this article from Ars Technica, which summarizes a study conducted by three researchers at the University of California, Riverside.

In a nutshell, the researchers discovered that NOT using a blocklist while using P2P apps leads to a 100% chance of connecting with a rogue computer – one run by Big Media (or, more likely, one of the third-parties hired by Big Media) for the purposes of tracking the trade in illegal files. Let me repeat – if you don’t use a blocklist, your chances of connecting to an illicit tracker or peer are 100%. Simply connecting to a rogue computer doesn’t mean that there will be an lawsuit against you in the near future, but it’s not good. It’s a list of “who’s being naughty” that most of us do not want to be on.

The good news is that using blocklists is pretty easy. If you’re running Windows 2000 or XP, Linux or OS X (but not Windows Vista), head on over to Phoenix Labs and download the latest version of PeerGuardian, a simple to use “P2P firewall” for Windows. Just install it, tell setup what you want to block (P2P, spyware adware) and you’re in the blocklist business. Although PeerGuardian isn’t a magic bullet, it is amazingly effective. As the blocklist study noted, “avoiding just the top 5 blocklisted IPs reduces the chance of being tracked to about 1 percent”.

There are other blocklist managers out there. BlockList Manager from B.I.S.S. is one. The popular Bittorrent program Azureus has one built-in. Whatever app you want to use, make sure that you start using one today. After all, although these blocklists might not be perfect, they’re far, far better than nothing at all. And the study (linked in the Ars article) proves it!

Random Movie Trivia

– In the film Die Hard: With a Vengeance, a madman has placed a bomb at an elementary school and threatens to detonate it if Bruce Willis refuses to travel to Harlem and wear a sign he had hidden there. In the “theatrical version” of the film, the sign Bruce is forced to wear says “I hate niggers”; in the “broadcast version”, the sign says “I hate everybody”. Because that part of the film was shot on location in Harlem, the producers feared a riot would break out if Bruce wore the “theatrical version” of the sign… so he wore the “broadcast version”. So the TV version of the film has been left unedited, while the version shown in theatres was edited. As you know, it’s usually the other way around.

Pride of the Yankees is a 1942 film starring Gary Cooper as New York Yankee legend Lou Gehrig. One problem with casting Cooper was immediately obvious: Cooper was right-handed, while Gehrig was left-handed. Since the film was released only a year after Gehrig’s death, the producers were certain that the moviegoing public would notice the inconsistency. To solve the problem, everything in the game scenes – all of the uniform numbers and logos, the billboards and scoreboard – were printed in reverse, and when Cooper hit the ball, he’d run to third base, not first. The producers then simply flipped the film over, and Cooper now appeared to be left-handed, and all of the text on the uniforms, billboards, etc. appeared to be correct.

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How to buy a digital camera

The holiday season is almost upon us, and one question I’m asked again and again is “what kind of digital camera should I get for my sister\mother\father\grandmother\father-in-law???”

The truth is, there is no “correct” answer. Everyone has different needs and different budgets, so I honestly don’t know which digital camera is best for you… or your mom or dad or sister or mistress. And, to be honest, although I have a reputation as being a “gadgethead”, I really don’t keep up with the digital camera market that much. I have a nice Canon S400 that I’ll use until it either breaks forever, gets stolen, or is laughably out of date.

Having said all that, I have put together a quick guide that’ll help just about anyone buy a decent digital camera at whatever price point they choose. Keep in mind, though, that the following guide is for people just wanting a decent “point-and-shoot” camera, something for taking snapshots of vacations and birthday parties. If the person you’re buying the camera for is a serious photography enthusiast or professional photographer… stop reading this guide immediately and seek the help of a professional camera salesperson.

1) Buy a camera from a company that’s always made cameras. Following this single step will help you bypass 90% of the issues that come with buying digital cameras. Companies like Canon, Pentax and Nikon have made cameras for decades and know what they’re doing. Digital cameras sold by companies like Dell and HP might be good. Or they might not. They might have been designed by highly-qualified engineers at HP. Or the company might just rebrand cameras made by Korean or Chinese companies. You’re just more likely to get a lemon from one of these guys than from a traditional camera maker. The sole exception to this rule is Kodak. I’ve never read a good review of a Kodak digital camera, so I’d advise you to stay away from them… unless you want “easy to use”, which Kodak cameras usually get good marks for.

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A Neat RDP Trick

I don’t know how often this trick will come in handy for you system administrator types, but I “invented” it today whilst troubleshooting a problem for a client.

As you probably know, Remote Desktop lets you share your local printers with the remote computer that you’re connecting to. But did you know that you can share that printer on the remote computer, too? And if you share that printer any client on the destination network can print to your desktop printer?

I didn’t know it at the time. As I was troubleshooting something, it became obvious that I needed to try and print a document as part of the troubleshooting process. But I was at home and the user was in Charlotte. So I logged in to the company’s SBS server, shared my home printer off the server, then added that printer as a local printer on the user’s PC. I clicked File > Print and chose my home printer… and the document printed on my home printer!

This might be one of those “Well DUH! Didn’t you know that?” tips, but I thought it might come in handy!

Fixing Errant Firefox Extensions

Have you ever had a Firefox extension just stop working? I’m not talking about an extension not working properly after being updated, an extension that worked properly with one version of Firefox but doesn’t work after Firefox is updated, an extension that fails installation altogether, or an extension with some odd reproducible problem. I’m talking about an extension that worked properly for months, and then suddenly stops working without Firefox or the extension itself being updated. Say you’ve been using AdBlockPlus for ages, and one day you notice that ads are no longer being blocked and the AdBlock icon is missing from the toolbar and\or status bar. Neither Firefox nor AdBlock have been updated… it just no longer works!

It’s possible that the extension itself has become corrupted, but it’s more likely that Firefox’s extension database has become corrupted Here’s one quick and easy thing to try that just might fix this:

1) Make sure that Firefox is closed.

2) Click Start > Run and type the following into the “Run:” text box. Press ENTER when done:


3) Click on your profile folder (it will have an odd name, such as “49g0xduq.default”).

4) Delete the following files: extensions.ini, extensions.cache and extensions.rdf.

5) Restart Firefox.

Firefox will rebuild those three files the next time your restart the browser. If this does not fix your problem, try uninstalling and reinstalling the extension.

SONGS I LOVE: “Methods Of Dance”

Japan - Gentlemen Take PolaroidsI’m not one of those people that “instantly” likes new music. Sure, there’s the occasional song that I instantly fall in love with… but more often than not, I have to listen to a song or album a couple of times before I really start to like it. This was especially true in the case of Japan, a British New Wave band from the late 70s and early 80s.

The band started off as a crappy glam-rock outfit, but eventually morphed into an “art pop” band heavily influenced by Roxy Music in general, and Bryan Ferry in particular. That metamorphosis actually began with the last track on Obscure Alternatives, their final glam-rock album, then hit a disco pothole with Quiet Life (a direction “strongly encouraged” by their record label), then finally came into its own with the 1980 album Gentlemen Take Polaroids. And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Duran Duran ripped off Japan in so many ways. Look at the album cover there are tell me Nick Rhodes didn’t rip off Japan’s style! Listen to the “dance remix” of Japan’s “Adolescent Sex” single and tell me that Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” remix doesn’t sound suspiciously similar!

In any case, I managed to track down Polaroids on CD back in 1985. I liked the title track well enough, but it wasn’t love. And then “Methods of Dance” came on… and I was in love! I don’t know what it is about this song, but it just got to me. I think it’s the airy synth that kicks in just before the chorus. Or maybe it’s lead singer David Sylvian’s smooth singing style. Or the fretless bass. The mysterious backup vocals. I don’t know what it is exactly, but this is the song that made me fall in love with Japan. Have a listen for yourself:


A note about the site…

Well folks, I gave it a good college try, but I have to say that the DualFeeds plug-in for WordPress just doesn’t work… for me anyway.

The plug-in is supposed to allow you to have dual RSS feeds – a standard WordPress “summary” feed and a “full-text feed” that contains the entire text of a post. Sadly, I’ve just never gotten to to work correctly. By default, the plug-in changes your MAIN feed to full-text and creates a new “summary” text feed; the plug-in also has a “flip feeds” option that allows you to swap this around so as not to disrupt your current RSS subscribers. This option seems to “flip itself” any time I activate or deactivate the plug-in. By this I mean that if I activate the plug-in and choose “flip feed”, it will flip it, but if I deactivate and reactivate the plug-in it will “flip it” again. It’s kind of like two light switches at opposite ends of a stairway: instead of having a fixed “on” or “off” position, they work either way. DualFeeds seems to do the same, and that’s confusing.

Also, DualFeeds has a “feature” I really don’t like: a content cutoff. Normally it searches for WordPress’ MORE tag and cuts off the “summary” RSS post there. However if it doesn’t find a MORE tag, it simply cuts off the post after a certain number of characters. By default, DualFeeds cuts off your summary feeds after 500 characters per post. I’ve tried playing around with the character limits to try and find a sweet spot, but what I’d really prefer is an option to split the summary post only if there’s a MORE tag.

In any case, I’ve disabled DualFeeds and will actually delete the plug-in files later today. I’ll also be replacing my “hacked” Meta section on the sidebar with the original one, so the full-text link will go away. The good news is that if you’re subscribed to the feed using the “full-text” link, you don’t have to do anything: apparently, DualFeeds works by adding “&dualfeed=2” to the end of the existing RSS feed address. With DualFeeds disabled, WordPress simply ignores anything posted after “feed=rss2”. So you full-text guys need not change anything.

Sorry it didn’t work out, guys.