Sunday, April 21, 2013

In Solitude the Mind Gains Strength and Learns to Lean Upon Itself

The tragic events surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon have given me reason to reflect on a lost love—running. But, doing so also brought me to reflect on what seems a lost ability in modern man—running without headphones.

From roughly the late-80s to the mid-90s I was a competitive runner, at distances 5K-marathon, and bicycle racer, combining the two disciplines in the running/cyclng biathlon (with some success). Even after retiring from competiton, I continued to run until halted by a chronic back condition in 2002, and continued to road cycle until being hit by a car in 2004. Now I am left with trail riding on my mountain bike.
Distance running and cycling require significant time investment, and are often solo pursuits. There are interval sessions on the track, paceline drills, long runs of 1-3 hours, long rides of 4-6 hours. I looked forward to and felt restored by the time spent, engaged in the surroundings and accompanied by nothing more than my inner dialogue—noodling over private troubles, working through design problems (for most of my competitive years, I was a practicing software hacker nerd at Bell Labs) or deconstucting glories real and imagined (can't tell you under how many different circmstances I won the Tour de France).
Now it bothers me to see virtually every runner on the street, every fellow gym-goer, locked into earbuds, entombed in a coccoon of sound. Olympic swimmers can't even walk the short distance from the locker room to the pool without shutting out the world. "The zone" seems quite lonely.
You encounter quite different sounds running along suburban roads, through Little Italy and Chinatown in Manhattan, on the snowy streets of pre-dawn Toronto, in rural Ireland, or cycling the backroads of New Jersey and northern Michigan. Why homogenize them? The experience of running the Boston Marathon, as I did in 1990 and 1991, is one of literally being applauded every step of the way until the deafening din of Boylston Street and the finish. Why shut it out?
Just because high-quality weightless digital packaging make it possible to take your music everywhere doesn't mean you have to. Re-engage with the simple act of being alone with your thoughts.
             Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #56            

Title: Eagles
Artist: The Long Run
Genre: Rock
Year: 1979

Like many a marathoner, the Eagles had hit the wall before releasing their final studio album, The Long Run. There are a couple memorable cuts, new member Timothy B. Schmit's contractually-obligated songwriting and vocal contribution, and a lot of forgettable filler. But, like a wise marathoner, they should have known when to hang 'em up; otherwise that one-too-many effort is really painful.

© 2013 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What Would You Pay for Used Digital Access Rights?

The United States Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 to uphold your right to resell legally-purchased physical goods contaning copyrighted elements, even if the copyright holder objects. Meanwhile, a U.S. District Court judge ruled to block your right to resell legally-purchased digital downloads containing copyrighted elements. Where does this lead?

If companies cannot limit consumer ownership rights to physical goods, that may just hasten their transition to all-digital delivery. But courts are fickle, and future rulings could extend re-sale rights to digital downloads. Better for companies to keep digital goods in the cloud and sell access to them.

The major players are taking steps to make non-exclusive rights to access cloud-based digital goods feel like ownership. Since the November 2012 announcement in that the Supreme Court would hear the Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons case, both Apple and Amazon have received patents indicating they are working on technology to permit buyers of e-books and cloud-based music files to resell these products. Don't be fooled into thinking this will give you full ownership rights.

Physical media books, LPs and the like are scarce objects. No matter how many are made, the number is finite, the individual objects are unique, and are subject to wear, damage and loss over time. The ones that survive retain value according to their condition. And you are free to re-sell them to a willing buyer.

Digital media files  information stored in bits-only form are infinite objects. There is no limit on the number of people who can simultaneous possess the information, each copy is identical, and does not degrade over time. The value of infinite objects is in the information transfer; the objects themselves have no retained value. But you should be free to re-sell them as long as you actually transfer possession to a buyer; the value of the transaction is based on its convenience.

Cloud-based digital media files are shared objects. Only one copy need exist because possession is retained by the owner (Apple, Amazon) who can sell an infinite number of individual rights to access the file. Amazon's rumored system for selling your "used" Kindle titles merely turns off your access to the book(s) and enables access for someone else. There is no transfer, making it impossible to place a value on the transaction. Why are "used" digital access rights worth any more or less than the original rights?

Furthermore, Amazon has announced Coins, a virtual currency obtained via credit card which will be used by Kindle Fire owners to purchase games, apps, content, and in-app purchases on their tablets. Expect any transaction in the virtual secondary market to be denominated in virtual currency, which amounts to "store credit" issued to the seller. (We all know how coupons convince us to spend more money.) Hard currency enters these walled-off digital ecosystems, but it never comes out.

Ownership of music still trumps access in the cloud when audio fidelity and freedom of choice are considered. All my weightless digital library files play identically, whether the material was originally sourced on vinyl, CD, or legally-purchased download. That same homogeneity should extend to selling any or all of the files, or donating the library after I'm gone. Stand up for First Sale protection everywhere.

             Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #55            

Title: The Big Band Sessions
Artist: Anita O'Day
Genre: Jazz
Year: 1979

The Big Band Sessions (2-LP, Verve VE-2-2534) is a re-packaging of five Anita O'Day titles: Anita O-Day Swings Cole Porter with Billy May (V-2118), Anita O'Day and Billy May Swing Cole Porter (V-2141), Trav'lin' Light (V2157), Cool Heat (V-8312) and All the Sad Young Men (V-8442). I recently purchased it at an estate sale for $2 and made a high-res digital transfer with tracks organized according to original title and album sequence. (Yes, you can do that.) If First Sale Doctrine is not universally applied, how many copyright holders' permissions (euphemism for payments) would be necessary to sell this digital re-packaging — one, five, six? Any number greater than zero is too many.

© 2013 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.