Sunday, May 29, 2011

Candid Photo

This is a photo taken by someone I didn't know at the Help Island Public welcome area. He was kind enough to give me a copy.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thin Music: Part IV: Second Life Streams

Written 27 May, 2011

Thin Music

Part IV

Second Life Streams and Hard Drive Capacities

Every parcel in Second Life can stream music, either live or from one of the many online radio stations. Bit rates range from about 32 kbps to 128 kbps.

Alas, it seems thin music is a fact of our Second Lives.

But it doesn't have to be part of our out-of-world experiences.

In this world of inexpensive hard drives with huge capacities, it's possible to build huge libraries with uncompressed WMA or other files-- and for those who wish to compress files to do so at high bit rates like 320 kbps.

Right now my iTunes library weighs in at some 75,000 songs and fills just over 500 gb on my external hard drive (I keep it on the external drive so my C:\ drive won't have to work as hard).

With 2 TB drives selling for less than a hundred bucks these days, there's no reason to rip your tracks at 128 kbps. Try 320kbps, or, better yet, just save your files as WMAs (an exact image to the files on your CDs). And go buy a good set of headphones.

Because no one should have to listen to thin music.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thin Music: Part III: Music Goes Portable

Written 24 May, 2011

Part III

Music Goes Portable

I was perhaps the first person in East Tennessee to own a Sony Walkman.

I was working at a state-run developmental center as a behavior analyst, and every day I would walk between the buildings with my Walkman and earphones, enjoying my music. I had no idea the rest of the staff were talking about me until a unit supervisor said to me, "You know, people are saying you're crazy."

"I might be," I said. "If so, I'm certainly in the right place for it."

I put the headphones on her ears and let her listen for a moment.

"You're not crazy," she said.

Before long, of course, Walkman and Walkman knockoffs were being sold in Wal-Mart and K Mart and half the stoners in Tennesse had one.

The Walkman was the size of  a fat paperback novel and had a formidable sound. Playing audiocassettes through a pair of pretty good headphones, it played music with an immediacy and precision that many people had never experienced. My first generation Walkman cost several hundred dollars, but before long they were $30 or so at department stores.

The significance of the Walkman, of course, was that personal libraries of music, at first limited to the house and then made semi-portable by way of the automobile, now traveled with the person. The Walkman wasn't tiny, but it would fit in a purse or a coat pocket and could be clipped to a belt, and the tapes were small, meaning users could easily carry around three or four.

The cassette Walkman was eventually replaced by the CD Walkman, but but for some reason-- maybe partially the skipping and partially confusing controls-- I never warmed to the latter. I bought one, but never really used it.

I did, nowever, buy and use an MP3 when this century was new.

The years since 2000 or so have seen widespread ripping of CDs and, for vintage material not available on CD, ripping from vinyl and audiocassette. Today, of course, downloads are by far the most popular way to buy or steal music. I've not bought a single CD since the quality of the material at Apple and Amazon reached an acceptable bit rate.

There's a problem with digital downloads, however: to make the files smaller, they're encoded  in lossy formats. MP3s is one of these lossy formats, meaning material already compromised by the slow sampling rate on CDs is further dumbed down when turned into an MP3-- and the smaller the file (and the lower the bit rate), the more the music becomes thin.

By thin I mean without presence, absent of fidelity, watery, insubstantial. It lacks warmth and immediacy and highs and lows and the middle.

This significant problem is further compounded by cheap electronics and crappy earbuds which cannot reproduce highs and lows.

The result is people who, like me back in the day, have never experienced high-fidelity music.

Ripping tracks at the highest bit rate possible helps-- a lot. MP3s encoded in stereo at 320 kbps sound immensely more full and satisfactory than those ripped at 128 kbps.

Good earphones help, too. Expensive doesn't necessarily mean good, but there are some pretty good iPod-compatible models available.

It helps, too, to have a pretty good player. I have an iTouch-- but for critical listening I use my aging iRiver.

I find it sad that we live in an era of thin music. Things will get better, I'm sure-- most promising are new formats like FLAC files that don't lose information. But for now we live in an age of thin music.

The tiny drivers in these earbuds reproduce bass and treble
just as faithfully as these Sony over-the-ear closed headphones. Really.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thin Music: Part II: Fidelity Fades Away

Written 24 May, 2011

Thin Music

Part II

Fidelity Fades Away

Back in the days of vinyl there was a better medium, one that produced full clear sound without the pops and clicks that plagued even the best record pressings: tape.

The technology of recording tape was primitive, but reel-to-reel recorders moved a wide-enough tape fast enough past the heads to ensure a high-quality sound. Audiophiles loved them. I have one myself, unused these days, but still displayed in my bedroom.

1964 saw the introduction of the 8-track tape cartridge.

In the South 8-track tapes are still sold at flea markets
Here's how this tricky little gadget works.

With a wide tape and a fairly fast speed, the sound was acceptable, although the click at the end of the loop as the tape changed tracks was disconcerting. So, too, was the recording of songs to allow the shortest possible tape length. Still, the 8-track made it possible for people to listen to their own music in their cars. Previously, the only such option was a problematic under-the-dash record player made by RCA and sold by car dealers and mail-order automotive company J.C. Whitney. J.C. Whitney was best known for their cheesy accessories. "Yes, I'd like a pair of fuzzy dice and a steering wheel spinning and a pair of Yosemite Sam mud flaps, and, oh, yes, one of those 45 rpm car record players." Needless to say, the auto record player never quite caught on.

The 8-track's history was brief: in just a few years it had been replaced by the compact audio cassette.

Introduced in 1962, more than ten years before the 8-track, the compact cassette had a lot of advantages: It was small, rugged, convenient, portable, and inexpensive to produce. The tape was cleverly hidden, and so protected from damage. And the cassette could hold up to 90 minutes of recorded sound.

The only problem was it sounded like crap.

Developed to record sound in the early 70s, the narrow tape width and slow 1 7/8" ips speed was unsuitable for music. There just weren't enough magnetic particles moving past the heads to make for a pleasurable music listening experience. It was a matter of physics.

And so, since getting better sound would have required an expensive redesign, they changed physics.

Not really. What tape and tape deck manufacturers did was create a new tape coating with smaller particles. And they changed the material itself, adding chromium dioxide, which increased fidelty. And they introduced Dolby noise reduction. The result was much improved sound.

Introduced in 1971, these innovations doomed the 8-track player, and audio cassettes prevailed until they in turn were doomed by introduction of the compact disk. (Now, of course, the CD is itself in decline, challenged by downloaded digital files.

While the audio cassette was far from the perfect medium, it worked well for automobiles and in the newfangled Sony Walkman.

Thin Music: Part I: High Fidelity

Infinity's Legendary Quantum-3 Loudspeakers
Written 23 May, 2011

Thin Music

Part I

High Fidelity

I remember the first time I heard high fidelity music.

I was at 100 Oaks Mall in Nashville, Tennessee. I and my friends Clyde and John were hanging out, which for us meant having a Whopper at Burger King and going to a mall and walking around and perhaps seeing a movie.

Clyde had a newfound interest in recorded sound, and he steered us into a stereo store. Just at the door there were a pair of small Bose 301 bookshelf loudspeakers. From them was pouring the overture from the Who's rock opera Tommy, and the sound was textured and rich with a wide soundstage. Instruments were coming from my left and from my right and from in front of me, each from its own point in space and with each instrument sounding as if it were being played life right in front of me. It was mesmerizing; I was transfixed.

Before that my experience with recorded music had consisted of top 40 tunes played on AM stations through the small transistor radio radio my parents had given me at Christmas, and 45s and LPs spun on my mother's stereo, which was a wooden console with the cheapest and tinniest possible mechanism-- not that she cared. For my mother having a stereo was about having a stereo and not about the music at all. When her console broke it sat there for ten or more years, mute, and she was happy with it.

So hearing Tommy in all its richness immobilized me. John and Clyde almost literally had to drag me away.

I was a poor graduate student, but soon I had a turntable, and eventually a receiver, a cassette deck, and a parade of speakers. I had some income by then, and the receivers grew ever more powerful and the speakers ever bigger. Every time I was content, Clyde would upgrade his system and I would grow discontented and upgrade my own.

Eventually I wound up with perhaps the best-engineered electronic products I have ever owned-- a pair of Infinity Quantum 3 loudspeakers, bought as seconds for $730, a fortune for me even at $300 below the normal price.

The Q-3s were large speakers, about three feet high, with a Watkins-Infinity dual-voice-core bass driver, a mid-bass, a 5" midrange, and two electrostatic tweeters. My Q-3s, although some others apparently didn't, had additional tweeters in the back, facing the wall. They were the antithesis of the big and worthless Definator X-1 speakers in the 1986 film Ruthless People: they accurately reproduced sound. They were wonderful.

Before I shelled out the money I looked at and listened intently to just about every speakers on the market, from the small Bose 901s to huge Klipschhorns: Advents, ARs, JBL-L100s, Japanese Pioneers and Marantz' and Yamahas, and some over-the-top expensive systems like Dahlquists and Altec-Lansing's preposterous Voice of the Theaters, and, of course, every speaker in the Infinity lineup.

The speakers I liked best were the Dahlquist DQ-10 (which sounded a bit better than anything else, IMO, but was way out of my price range) and ADS L810s. I actually owned a pair of 810s for a time, and loved them, but sold them to help finance the purchase of the Q-3s. A few years ago I picked up a pair for a few hundred dollars on eBay, and they now sit in my living room, powered by a big Onkyo A/V receiver.

The Q-3s didn't have (to my mind, at least) imaging as the 810s, but they just sounded so GOOD! The electrostatic tweeters made for clear highs and the big Watkins-Infinity woofers made the floor shake.

But what I liked about the Q-3s the most was their accuracy. While John and Clyde preferred the boomy (to my ears) West Coast sound and purchased JBLs, I wanted to hear bass drums sounding like bass drums and cymbals sounding like cymbals. The Infinities did that.

I still own those Q-3s. They're in my bedroom, hooked up to a NAD pre-amp and a BK power amp, and I listen to them sometimes, and even with CDs, they sound marvelous. I heard nuance and detail most people never hear because their music systems are incapable of producing them: fingers slipping on fretboards, the inhalations of musicians, the rustle of clothing in the recording booth. They provide a high-quality listening experience I can't get from my downstairs setup, or from the really good sound system in my car, and certainly not from iTunes or my iTouch.



Still Listening After All These Years

About ten years ago my Infinities needed some attention. I bought a kit and refurbished the woofer surrounds, but, courtesy of a friend who cranked my system up to eleven and then went out to eat, I had a blown midrange and there were no replacements to be found.

I found myself speaker shopping again. I started with the highest-end systems-- $10,000 or more. I even listened to my Q-3s (I took them to an audiophile store to get the midrange repaired) side-by-side with speakers costing half my annual salary, and you know what?

None sounded as good to me as my Q-3s.

This is What a $700,00 Pair of Loudspeakers Looks Like!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Let's Party Like It's 2011

Written 21 May, 2011

Let's Party Like It's 2011

I'm not quite sure which time zone Jesus uses, but the prediction of  89-year-old preacher Harold Camping is that the world will end at 6 pm today.

Of course today here is yesterday in some other places and today there is tomorrow here, so let's say we just better be prepared at the top of every hour.

Sweetie had the brilliant idea of having an end of the world party on Whimsy, but IRL my wacky little town is having an end of the world party (5:40 pm, don't be late!) and I think I'll drop by. I do plan to stay logged in while I'm away, though, so if the world does end I'll be in a safe alternate location.

When I get back from my town's brief little get together we may well have a post-end of the world party on Whimsy. IM me if you would like an invitation.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Butt Culture in Second Life

Written 5-13-2011

Butt Culture in Second Life

For some people, the avatar is all about the bootie.

This seems especially true for women from Brazil.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Giving a Presentation with Sweetie

Written 8 May, 2011

A Presentation with Sweetie

Yesterday Sweetie and I drive a hundred and fifty miles and gave a presentation about our Second Lives at a conference that wasn't about Second Life.

The conference was small with multiple tracks, so we had only about ten people in the room, but it was fun to slow slides of us and of Whimsy and talk about our relationship.

There was another couple present who had also met in Second Life. Their story was more drama-filled than mine. They met in a Second Life strip club and become partners. When she traveled to the U.S. to a conference, they met in real life. She wound up seeking asylum, spent a month in a holding cell, her blue card is now in process, and the couple of living together. Another couple in the room had met them in Second Life and helped them when they ran into legal snags in the immigration process. Another attendee couldn't seem to learn how to turn her computer on and wanted help. And a friend showed up to support me by questioning every thing we said and IMing throughout the presentation.

We spent a lot of time in preparation for such a small audience, but we have from it a nice PowerPoint presentation and movie Sweetie made. I'll post it here in the blog soon-- if it doesn't show her virtual face, that is.

Can't... Reach... the... Mute... Button... ARRGH!

Written 8 May, 2011

Can't... Reach... the... Mute... Button... ARRGH!

Welcome areas tend to have no end of obnoxious and deliberately insulting people-- from newbies drunk with power who like to spam the chat by hitting return after every word and make rude gestures or brandish freenises, to year-old cynical twentysomethings who come to be cool and generally fall short of that mark.

In a Battle of Wits it is Not Wise to Arrive Lightly Armed

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mute and Derender

If you mute a mime, is he still silent?
Photo from Albion Spiteller's FLICKR site
Written 4 May, 2011

Mute and Derender

Second Life is designed to make a level playing ground for every resident. A few people are able to game the system, but for the most part everyone has access to the same security and privacy safeguards. If you keep your password strictly to yourself and don't grant build and map-tracking features to others, people can't mess with your account or your in-world property.

But they can still harass and annoy you.

There are two tools which are absolutely invaluable when people annoy you: mute and derender.

Mute stops you from hearing their chat or getting their IMs, and silences their gestures and scripted object. Blessed silence!

Not all viewers have a derender feature, but Phoenix and Imprudence, at least, do. Derender stops you from seeing them something or someone. Combine it with mute and they're just... gone. It's as if they never existed.

Mute and derender persist until you reverse them. You can easily cancel them.

To mute someone, just right click on their avatar and mute them, or mute them from their profile. To unmute them, just go to your mute list, highlight their name, and choose unmute (or unmute them from their profile).

You an also mute someone by muting one of their objects.

To derender something or someone in Phoenix, just right click them and derender. To re-render them, go to the Phoenix Menu, choose Whitelist, and remove them from the list.

It's that easy.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Written 1 May, 2011


Last night my friend and Whimsy resident Serenek Timeless IMed me with an important question. At least she said it was an important question. Did Whimsy need any scripted gophers that would squeal when their holes were stepped on?



Were gophers now shoulder pets? Or horrors, were they the latest in breedable animals-- you put one on your land and next thing you know there are thousands and the tulips are all gone.

Nope, this was a cut little animated gopher that pops out of its hole and squeaks at you when you tread on it. Cute!

I went to the store she pointed out to me and bought the gopher-- copyable-- for just $60L and put a couple on the ground on Whimcentricity between Serenek's house and Mairenn's. Poor Mairenn will probably get a fright the next time she goes to fire her cannon and steps on one the little guys.

Serenek said maybe the gopher could be the cannoneer.

I said maybe the gopher could be the cannonball.

We speculated on whether we could make  a cannon that fired gophers.

"Why not?" I said. "I made one at Christmas that fires fruitcakes."

I explained my reasoning. "Since both gophers and fruitcakes are hard to get rid of," I said, "a gopher cannon should work."

That set us off on a delightful discussion of regifting and plum puddings and hard sauce and other British desserts. Then I mentioned I had a can of something called spotted dick at home. I had picked it up as a novelty, I said. Since Xubi has a jar of hard sauce maybe I could bring my spotted dick with me the next time I visited.

That didn't sound right.

Although I couldn't think of a better way to say it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why Newbies Need to Activate Advanced Mode

"What am I supposed to do in this game?"
Written 30 April, 2011

Why Newbies Need to Activate Advanced Mode

About a month ago the Lindens introduced a new feature in the default viewer (2.6): Basic Mode.

Basic Mode is less complex and hopefully less discouraging than the regular viewer for first-time-in worlders, but functionality is limited. There's no voice, no inventory, no building, no way to modify the avatar, no groups, no ability to spend or obtain Linden dollars.

I'm sure newbies will rush to activate Advanced Mode once they realize they can't:

Crank their breast size up to 100 (females)
Get a freenis (males)
Buy and wear clackety shoes
Clutter their inventory with 50,000 houses, free vehicles, tacky jewelry items, and butt skirts
Make themselves bling at every attachment point
Cover themselves with tattoos
Attach nuclear facelights
Wear those animation overriders that make you strut around like you have to go to the bathroom
Get badly-fitting prim hair
Beg for Linden dollars
Work newbie jobs for three cents an hour
Leave prim clutter all over the place
Play annoying farting gestures in crowded places
Talk dirty to you in voice IM
Sell the badly-textured t-shirt they just made

Those who don't activate Advanced Mode will just have to limit themselves to whining about how stupid and pointless Second Life is and offering friendship to everyone who comes within 20 meters