Foolish behavior

This post is a bit off topic, but I have worked on both public radio broadcasts and webcasts, so I have some interest in the absurd royalty hike for internet radio stations that seems like it will be ruthlessly effective in smothering them out of business.

Under the new rules, the retroactive royalties owed by almost all of today’s independent webcasters will be greater than their total revenue. Wait a second,

How can the value that music brings to webcasters exceed webcasters’ revenue? Of course, the value of music can’t be made so low as to ensure every webcaster makes a profit; but isn’t it equally ridiculous to raise that value to ensure that no webcaster can survive?

Could the Copyright Royalty Board have been unaware that its decision would have lethal financial consequences for most webcasters? Or could it be their intention was to shut down the large majority of today’s channels, to leave the entire market to enormous media companies chasing high-profile advertising? Either way, the effect a purely mass-market approach will have on webcast playlists will likely be similar to the effect it has had on the quality of traditional radio.

The internet offers many strong advantages over traditional radio: it lacks expensive and paralyzing FCC regulations, while affording a lower barrier to entry, infinite bandwidth, and a more precisely targeted audience. The fact that internet radio stations can survive with little administration and technical infrastructure means stations can be numerous, small, targeted, and innovative. In contrast, a payola-ridden and highly politicized scene on the airwaves has led to less diversity in programming than ever before. In my opinion, there is very little good music on traditional radio — something that anyone with a modicum of taste can hear absolutely clearly.

I do not know if webcasting helps or hurts the status quo of the recording industry, and I don’t care. I don’t have a stake in it anymore. However I do believe that webcasting brings higher quality music into my life. People seem to like internet radio, so the labels should find a way to profit from the quality that internet radio uniquely offers rather than change the product in a way that will reduce its appeal. Otherwise they are missing a lucritive business opportunity, and commit the unforgivable sin of stamping out a vital part of many people’s musical enrichment. Just another example of foolish behavior on the part of the recording industry I suppose.

For more, check out this roundup.

LaTeX: itemize bullet characters

Itemized lists in LaTeX automatically use a closed bullet point; first-level nested lists use dashes, followed by open bullets, etc. But what if you want to use different bullet characters?

First, specify which nested layer you want to change. {labelitemi} refers to the outermost nested list, followed by {labelitemii}, and so on. Then specify the character you want to use with its LaTeX command.

Here’s how to specify a closed bullet (the LaTeX default) in the outermost nested list:
item First item in the list
item Second item
item and so on

Any character can be used as a bullet character by writing its command in place of bullet. Some characters that might be particularly useful:

circ — An open circle
cdot — A centered dot
star — A five-pointed star
ast — A centered asterisk
rightarrow — A short right-pointing arrow
diamondsuit — An open diamond

For a full list of character commands, see Hypertext Help with LaTeX: Binary and relational operators


My Powerplant Family partner Lucy May just told me she is going to be choreographing a piece to be played on a Hang drum, a pitched metal instrument from Berne, Switzerland invented in 2000. Apparently these things are all the rage in the Netherlands right now. Here’s a video of a Hang player jamming… not in a laboratory or high tech concert hall, but at a picnic. Who ever heard of music being played at a picnic?! Impossible.

Mobile haptics in The Economist

The print edition of The Economist came out with an interesting article on mobile haptics last week, which is now available online. It points out that the iPhone lacks what little haptic feedback a normal phone provides in favor of a touch screen, and notes that Samsung’s SCH-W559, not yet available in North America, will utilize an active haptic display. That product uses Immersion’s VibeTonz technology, which I haven’t felt. Although the vibration signal is said to be “very precise,” I find vibration motors to be heavy and bulky and always having a weaker transient response and resolution than other actuation methods. But the first generation of mobile haptics is already getting by with unbalanced motors, so it seems to make some sense to try to refine them until other actuators hit the market.

The article also interviews Vincent Hayward of McGill University’s Center for Intelligent Machines who has been developing skin stretching techniques to simulate tactile stimuli normal to the contact area. I saw him present his “THMB” system at the Enactive conference in Montreal, and it looked damn cool. (“Looked” not “felt,” because again… no demo. Maybe I’ll make an appointment to walk over there one of these days and check it out.) It’s a MEMS, positioned on the device to be felt by the tip of the thumb (essentially the same place as Sony’s scroll wheel).

Speaking of which, I recently read about Sony’s own moble vibrotactile platform, which it calls the TouchEngine—an extremely thin vibration actuator made out of piezoelectric film. But it’s not for the thumbtip; it’s installed on the back of the device, and sits in contact with the user’s palm.