Music, Tech

Finding the Tracks, Lyrically Speaking

Headphones

Headphones (Photo credit: 96dpi)

“Out of a doorway the tentacles stretch of a song that I know and the world moves in slo-mo straight to my head like the first cigarette of the day.”  Elbow, Bones of You.

Earlier, out of nowhere, I remembered a song that I always associate with reading Rendezvous with Rama in the 90s because the music seemed strangely appropriate to the setting of the book.  It was in the charts at the time and was on the radio regularly but back then I didn’t buy music as I didn’t even have a CD player.  I’ve always thought it was a great song but had lost track of who it was by.

Time to find out, I thought, in these days of MP3 downloads I should have this in my collection.  Searching for “State of Mind” on Amazon wasn’t specific enough and brought up too many recent songs, then I thought that somewhere amongst all the lyrics sites one must have the words to this song.  Off to Google I went: “lyrics “I realise the state of mind that you have found me”” (the first line) returned one solitary result – and the details “Goldie – State of Mind”.  Aha.

Thirty seconds later and the MP3 single was downloading having cost me 59p.  A minute later I’m enjoying 7 minutes of blissful music.

I know the music industry took a while to accept music downloads but being able to rediscover old favourites and enjoy them again via either a snippet of lyrics or a sample of audio is one more amazing thing that the great database of the internet gives us.

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Tech

Don’t Take My Buttons Away

English: The Nikon D7000 is a 16.2 megapixel d...

English: The Nikon D7000 is a 16.2 megapixel digital single-lens reflex camera. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not alluding to the fact that my trousers would fall down or even that I’m addicted to little discs of chocolate, I’m becoming concerned at the proliferation of touchscreens and the like.

In computers, smartphones, cars and cameras it seems that push buttons and switches are seen as old-fashioned, not versatile enough, not eager to change colour or function at the drop of a hat, they’re so last century but wait a second, they still have value.

Some devices like a digital SLR camera have functions that you need to change quickly attached to a button, you instinctively reach for it with a finger tip, press it, twiddle the input dial and viola you’ve dialed in some exposure compensation.  The process of just knowing where the control is is called muscle memory and it’s very useful, so much so we often don’t realise we’re using it.  I’m using it now, I’m typing this without looking at the keyboard.  Now it’s true that’s possible with a touchscreen but only if you have a physical reference to start from and the display doesn’t change – with an actual button you only need to know it’s near your index finger, you just fish around for a second and know what the right one feels like, on a screen there’s, at the moment, no tactile cues.

The other problem with touchscreens is also that they tend to group all the controls on the back or front of the device so for example on the Samsung Galaxy NX camera, and other touchy-feely controlled cameras you have to take your eye from the viewfinder in order to fit your fingers between the screen and your nose.

So speed and practicality are on the single-minded, independent buttons’ side but what about safety?

Huh? you ask.  I’ve mentioned before how the same principle reduces the amount of time you’re looking away from the road when driving a car with physical controls rather than touchscreens or joystick-driven menus.  Until voice control gets to the KITT-level conversation style I’m not happy giving up my in-car knobs and dials.

As for voice control of phones and cameras, it’s fine until you find yourself trying to adjust a setting on your camera while not wanting to look away from the viewfinder but also being aware that asking your camera nicely if it wouldn’t mind changing the aperture to f/8 might be inappropriate to the setting.

Fashion seems to be pushing tech companies and car makers towards more minimalist devices, their faces just a screen of morphing, interactive controls, often for the sake of it, but good design shouldn’t compromise usability and sometimes the most usable control is the humble physical button.

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Business, Society, Work

Silent Running

English: Polish transistor radio Eltra Izabell...

English: Polish transistor radio Eltra Izabella Polski: Radio Izabella produkcji Eltry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once upon a time there was a happy, cheery workshop where everyone worked happily accompanied by the sound of their local radio station.  They hummed along to the songs, occasionally danced, laughed at jokes, discussed the news, listened to the cricket.  Then the man from PRS for Music came along and told the boss that he’d have to pay a fee because so many people listening to one radio counted as a public performance, especially as people outside might conceivably be able to hear it too and therefore the artists should be recompensed for this concert that they weren’t being paid to perform.  So the boss told the workers to take the radio home because he wasn’t prepared to pay for them to listen to music.  And from then on the workshop was quiet and sullen, less chatting, less laughing and the workers felt less happy and less motivated to work.  The artists still received their royalties from the radio station but the workers lost something important.  Still they worked accompanied by only the sound of machines, telephones, keyboard clatter or dripping taps, quiet drudgery occasionally punctuated by a bit of chatter.

This is the sorry tale repeated across the country.  I’m a content creator, not just on this blog but my photos and other works, and as such I appreciate the importance of copyright protection, but the issue of Music Licences is ridiculous.  Having a radio at work isn’t depriving artists of anything, it’s not like in the absence of a radio the workers would all go out and buy MP3 players and load them with every song ever recorded and likely to be played on local radio.

The actual rules class workplaces as “public places” as far as their interpretation of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Acts 1988 goes – in their words (this extract being “fair use”, by the way)   “In UK copyright law, a person wishing to play copyright music in public will generally require the consent (or licence) of the copyright owner before doing so. ‘In public’ means, broadly speaking, to an audience outside of his/her domestic or home circle. If the person does not obtain the required licence they may risk infringing copyright.”  The words “broadly speaking” are important, I feel their reach is too broad.

The rules exempt the communal areas of blocks of flats for example which could easily encompass a recreation area which could seat thirty or forty people listening to the same radio broadcast, or an album, wouldn’t that constitute more of a public performance than ten mechanics in a garage?  Similarly listening to music in a car is exempted but if you open the window wouldn’t anyone outside constitute an audience – “[An Artist’s] audience includes anyone listening to their music outside the domestic circle or home life.”  Will PRS for Music soon have roadside patrols?

At the end of the day the radio station will still pay to broadcast the music, they pay the same whether those ten mechanics are listening at work, whether the customers can hear it or whether all of them were listening individually at home.  PRS for Music may say that people are listening to music for free and not buying it, the same argument as piracy, but it’s not free, the broadcast has been paid for already and there is even the possibility that having heard a song at work that they might not hear otherwise because they don’t listen to the radio at home someone might go out and buy the album themselves.  Admittedly if someone buys an album and plays it at work then that’s more in line with PRS for Music’s description of a public performance but a radio isn’t in my opinion.

Background music and chat has been shown to improve mood, improve staff interactions, it can inspire creativity and boost productivity, it makes people feel good.  But like so much these days the cost of feeling good in this case is financial.

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Architecture, Art, Psychology, Society

The Dream Palais

Palais Idéal, Hauterives, Drôme, France.

Palais Idéal, Hauterives, Drôme, France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Built over thirty-five years by one man, The Palais idéal in the French town of Hauterives is an architectural wonder that is at the same time regarded by art critics as merely a folly and an example of so-called naive art.

Joseph-Ferdinand Cheval was born in 1836 and suffered an unsettled early life including the death of both his parents before he was 18, the deaths of two wives and several children, and many poorly paid jobs.  In 1867 he began work as a postman and the story of the Palais began.

As he walked on his rounds in the French countryside he began to construct in his mind what he called “a fairy palace of my dreams” in order to combat the boredom he had begun to feel.  His vision became so vivid as to be almost real in his mind but then he lost confidence in his internal vision and found himself simply wandering through the real world that had none of the wonders of his Palais and had only brought him pain in the past.

His spirit was awakened by tripping over a stone in his path that seemed to him to have been sculpted by nature and he realised that if creativity is inherent in nature then it could be within himself too and at that moment he found what he had been missing.  He realised that he could bring his dream castles into the real world and so he began to collect stones and build his Palais.

Once completed The Palais demonstrated his vision of creative reality, merging styles from across the world and across time.  Cheval said that creativity is life and in finding creativity he began a new life and was enriched by its energy.

The Palais was, from its unveiling, intended to be seen and was open to the public so that they too could be inspired to create and live rather than simply, passively be entertained.  Cheval hoped that his Palais would be part of a wider transformation of the world as people found their own creativity after seeing his work.  The Fortean Times article I read ended by talking about this aspect and its author said it was offered as a pebble for use in building that global palace and as I’d now come into contact with the Palais so I was inspired to discover my own kind of creativity and share it.  Today you don’t need stones and we can build a Palais online if we want, in some ways 21st Century Lunch is part of mine.

Fortean Times #286 p74-76 / Interesting Thing of The Day / Wikipedia

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