20 November 2005

Sony DRM Disaster - and the Mac

If you're reading this, it's highly unlikely that you don't already know about Sony's DRM disaster, so I won't go into the details.

Sony's FAQ, though, is just too weird to pass over in silence. Leaving aside that it's written in a language which only approximately resembles English, and that it appears not to have been proofread in any language, it's got all sorts of amusing stuff in it. I recommend you snuggle up with a glass of your favorite recreational beverage and browse through it. As Lewis Black would say, you've got to experience it in person, because there's no drug which will duplicate the experience.

My favorite part is this little gem:

3. How can I get tracks I rip from my CD into iTunes and/or onto my iPod?

Apple's proprietary technology doesn't support secure music formats other than their own and therefore the music on this disc can't be directly imported into iTunes or iPods.

Sony BMG wants music to be easily transferable to any device that supports secure music. Currently, music from our protected CDs may be transferred to hundreds of such devices, as both Microsoft and Sony have assisted to make the user experience on our discs as seamless as possible with their secure formats.

Unfortunately, in order to directly and smoothly rip content into iTunes it requires the assistance of Apple. To date, Apple has not been willing to cooperate with our protection vendors to make ripping to iTunes and to the iPod a simple experience.

If you believe that you should be able to easily move tracks from your protected CD to your iPod then we encourage you to use the following link to contact Apple directly and tell them so. http://www.apple.com/feedback/ipod.html

That said, while there is no direct support on the disc for iTunes or iPod, SONY BMG has worked out an indirect way for consumers to move content into these environments, despite the challenges noted above. If you'd like more information on how to move content to iTunes please CLICK HERE.

One of the many things that's funny about this text ("secure music"?) is that nothing in it bears any resemblance to reality! It happens that I have one of the XCP-infested discs: Cyndi Lauper's "the body acoustic". I bought it the other day before I knew about the DRM problem, but I hadn't listened to it until tonight when I noticed that it was on Sony's XCP list.

After I read the Sony FAQ, I figured I'd just take a shot at "directly and smoothly ripping the content into iTunes". I used my usual solution for this:

It worked perfectly. None of the distorted audio the FAQ warns about, no warning messages, no attempts to install the Mac version of Sony's DRM on my machine, no prompting for admin passwords, no incompatibility - just the usual Mac iTunes import process, with the usual successful result.

In fact, Sony knows this. They even admit it in the FAQ:

1. I have an Apple Macintosh computer. Will the disc work on my MAC?

Yes. This disc will behave like a traditional CD in a Mac.

Did you catch that? The disc will behave like a traditional CD (i.e. it will work!) in a Mac. It's only on a Windows machine that the CD becomes "non-traditional" - and stops working!

Let's translate that: It's Sony's proprietary technology - not Apple's - which makes the CD misbehave on PCs. Sony hasn't gotten around to making its CDs break iTunes on the Mac yet, presumably because Apple's market share is smaller than Microsoft's.

I think this is in fact the key to the success of iTunes and the iPod. Apple designed their system to make it easy to copy and play music; Sony designed theirs to make it hard - unless you play the game their way.

The CD is great, by the way. Too bad for Cyndi it will be off the market for at least part of the critical Christmas buying season (I'm sure Sony feels terrible about this, because, you know, DRM is all about protecting the artists and their revenue). But it's on my iPod, and I'm keeping the XCP-protected version of the CD, too. Who knows, it might be worth something some day...

11 November 2005

Photography Loses Another Grand Old Man

Lord Lichfield died today.

He joins a long list of his contemporaries we've lost recently... Galen Rowell, Herb Ritts, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Our world has been enriched by their work.

09 November 2005


I'm fascinated by peoples' reactions to photographs of themselves. Remember Pam's comment on this picture? Here's what she said:
You have no idea how pretty and attractive and a million other things that your photo makes me feel. It may be a photo that everyone can enjoy, but it means an order of magnitude more than that to me. To me, that photo represents what most women spend thousands of dollars on wedding photos for - proof for the ages of vitality, of attractiveness, of youth (ok, so not-so-much youth for me, hehe) -- the details vary but the theme remains. Your example of a photo that has no need for a mnemonic is exactly the opposite to me, because in 20 years, this photo will bring to life the memory of what it is that I am now, for the small group of people who knew me. And not just a shady memory, but an idealized, perfected memory at that...
When Pam says You have no idea how pretty and attractive and a million other things that your photo makes me feel, my photographer's ear hears "You have included the things I like best about myself in the picture, and you've left out the things I don't like about myself".

This doesn't always happen. Sometimes I take a picture I think is beautiful, but which the subject hates. When this happens, everyone else I show the picture to agrees with me that the picture is beautiful. In cases like this, the subject always has some very specific complaint ("my nose looks big", or "my eyes are different sizes").

In both cases - when the subject likes the picture and when she doesn't - I feel like I've succeeded because I've taken the photo I wanted to take: a photo which communicates what I find beautiful about the subject to almost everyone. But the first case - Pam's case - is better, because Pam agrees with everyone else that there's something beautiful about her which I've captured in the picture.

The best case of all, of course, is when this is news to the subject - the photographer's dream is to hear his subject say "No one has ever taken a picture that good of me - I didn't know I was that pretty".

This can happen because we all have mental pictures of ourselves which don't correspond exactly to reality. When Pam calls her picture an idealized, perfected memory, on one level she's just being literal; I did pose her and light her to best advantage, and I did do a little retouching to clean up stray hairs and things, so the picture is "idealized" and "perfected" to some extent.

On another level, though, what Pam is saying is that the picture on your screen looks better than the picture of herself she carries around in her mind.

This isn't neurotic; most people's mental images of themselves are less attractive than the real thing. I can't count the number of times people have told me "I'm not photogenic", when what they really mean is "I don't like my nose, and it makes me unhappy when I see it in pictures". I also can't count the number of times people who have said this to me have loved a picture I've taken of them. These people are surprised at how good their pictures look because when they're looking in the mirror (or at casual snapshots taken without any attention paid to posing and lighting), they're focusing on things they consider unattractive, but when I'm looking in the camera's viewfinder, I'm focusing on things I consider attractive - and figuring out how to leave everything else out of the picture.

At this point, you might accuse me of lying with the camera, or of contributing to unreasonable standards of feminine beauty, flacking for the cosmetics industry, etc...

But wait a minute - my image is no more a lie than Pam's mental image; neither is "the truth" - they are both just stories. If you could print out Pam's mental picture and lay it beside the picture on your screen, different people would have different opinions about which story is more "true". Pam would say her mental picture is closer to the truth; I would insist that my picture is closer to the truth. You, dear readers, would argue amongst yourselves.

Our self-images consist, of course, of more than just pictures. Our self-images are stories (An Identity is a Story), and we construct stories about all aspects of our lives and personalities. Our versions of those stories differ in lots of ways from the stories other people make up and tell about us (Identity is Subjective). This is why flattery works; we like it when we hear a story about ourselves which is prettier than our own version. It's also why gossip hurts - nobody likes it when a third-person account of "his story" compares unfavorably to the "official" first-person version.

And, of course, it's why we can be surprised - delighted or depressed - by pictures of ourselves. Surprises like this can change us; I like to think that Pam's mental picture of herself is a bit prettier than it was before she saw my picture of her.

Good News!

There are about half a million school-aged children in Kansas.

None of them will be competing with your kids for the best jobs of the 21st century.

Come to think of it, they may not even be able to enjoy a good beer when they graduate...