These posts are either "jump pages" for my weblog or posts-in-process that will eventually appear there. For what it's worth, here's an archive of these random bits. The picture to the left is by a famous comic book artist.
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From Vinyl to Digital, Hold the Crackle
By ROY FURCHGOTT
EARCH the Gnutella Network as you may, some recordings are so scarce or of such limited appeal that you cannot find them anywhere, except maybe in your own vinyl collection. But your rare 45 of Blondie's "Little GTO" need not be a stranger in the land of the CD player. Technology is available that will not only enable you to turn your hot wax into digital tracks, but will also let you clean up the static that separates your favorite Bruce Springsteen bootleg from its glory days.
To turn LP's into CD's, you will need some hardware: specifically a turntable, a preamplifier and a computer. You will also need software to digitize the analog signal, edit the digital recording, clean it and burn it to a CD or DVD.
Any turntable with a line-out connector will do, although you can also digitize other analog sources, like a radio broadcast, reel-to-reel tape or 8-track player (if you rescued yours from the Gremlin before you sold it).
To record from a turntable to a computer, the signal must first go through a preamplifier that will boost it to a recordable level. You can use a stereo receiver (most have preamp-out or phono-out connections), or you can buy a no-frills phono preamp for about $30 at an electronics hobby shop.
You will also need to connect the preamp to your computer. The most common way to do that is with an adapter cable with two male RCA plugs at one end that attach to your preamp and a one-eighth-inch stereo phono jack at the other that connects with your computer. But different equipment makers use different connectors, so you might need another kind of adapter.
If sound quality is a big concern, consider investing in a preamp with an audio-to-digital converter. These devices incorporate a computer chip dedicated to converting analog signals to digital ones. In theory, the computer's main processor is always busy carrying out other tasks, so using a separate chip for conversion delivers better sound. In practice, the degree of improvement will vary with the quality of the converter. One such device is a preamp sound card, like the Phono PreAmp from Terratec ($100, www .terratec.net), which puts a preamp with an analog-to-digital converter chip inside your computer.
Some LP restoration software suites, including Pinnacle Clean Plus ($100), come with an external preamp that plugs into a U.S.B. port and works with your existing sound card. (Clean Plus and other software choices are described in more detail in the accompanying article.) There is also the iMic from Griffin Technologies ($40, www.griffintechnologies.com), a small input device that converts analog signals to digital outside of the computer, eliminating the possibility of electronic interference from other computer components.
Once the signal has been amplified and digitized, your computer takes over. Recording the signal and cleaning it up require extensive processing, so a powerful chip is needed to do it efficiently. The makers of most cleaning software recommend at least a 500-megahertz processor.
You also need lots of hard-drive space, because sound files occupy about 10 megabytes per minute; that would be almost a gigabyte for all 77 minutes of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band's "Trout Mask Replica."
Three basic steps are necessary to get the digitized music ready and onto a disc. A recording program, sometimes called a ripper, captures the sounds. You can edit the digital recording, reducing static and other analog noise with filtering software and trimming excess lead-in time and adding fade-ins and simple effects with a wave form editor. Then you need a burning program to put the final product on a disc.
There are hundreds of individual sound-editing programs, from $15 shareware to professional-quality software costing $1,000 and up (see www.hitsquad.com for a list). Most consumer software costs $40 to $150, and often everything you need is bundled in a single suite. PC users can choose all-in-one products like Audio Cleaning Lab from Magix or Clean from Pinnacle, both of which are good for importing and cleaning.
For Mac users, things are a bit more complicated. There is only one moderately priced suite - Roxio's Toast 6 Titanium ($100 list price, but available for less) - and it has limited filters for reducing noises. Much improved over the previous version, Toast 6 is more than sufficient for converting a reasonably well-maintained record collection.
There are plenty of other programs you can use to make your own suite, like Peak from Bias for recording and editing and Ray Gun from Arboretum Systems for cleaning. But the actual recording and cleaning will require more work. With those two programs, for example, you would have to record and edit the file in Peak, then save it as a generic sound file. You would then have to import it into Ray Gun, clean it and re-export it as a generic recordable sound file.
The ripper software, at least, is simple. It works just like a tape recorder: you drop the needle onto a record, adjust the ripper's volume meters on your computer screen to the optimum level and click the Record command. It will capture the music in real time, producing a faithful copy that includes scratchy surface noise. Some audio purists like the noise, which lends authentic analog warmth. If you are in that camp, and you have recorded a well-cared-for album, your job is done, unless you want to use your editor to trim excess dead space at the beginning or end of a song or add a fade-in for a little flourish.
But if you want to get rid of static, the next step is to use cleaning software.
These programs rely on algorithms to sort noise from music. The simplest ones make some assumptions what a music signal looks like, then eliminate everything else. Some programs have automatic analyzers that check for static, then suggest appropriate filter settings.
But these programs are not as accurate as a pair of ears. Even the best cleaning programs can benefit from some manual adjustment. Some allow you to sample a particular sound - say, a pop heard with each rotation of your platter - and remove just that sound.
While experts spend more for their hardware and software than the typical home user, the restoration techniques they use are the same. Brian Slack, co-founder of Widget Post Production in Culver City, Calif., uses a $40,000 cleaning device from Cedar in combination with stacks of third-party software to restore about 250 movie soundtracks a year, like "West Side Story'' and the Pink Panther series.
Mr. Slack said that although some software offers preset corrections, say for 78 r.p.m. discs or tape, you are best off listening carefully and making your own settings. "For the most part, you want to sit down and do it on a record-by-record basis, sometimes on a track-by-track basis," he said.
He also recommended keeping a raw copy of your recording as a backup and saving a copy of the recording at each step as you work on it, so you can go back a step without starting over.
Do not overscrub. "There is definitely a point of diminishing returns where you can remove so much noise that you are removing the music as well," Mr. Slack said.
Finally, rippers can copy music at different sample rates. Generally, the higher the rate, the better the fidelity. For a CD that will be played on a home or car system, the standard settings are 44.1 kHz and 16 bits resolution. Higher sampling rates will not play on regular home CD systems, but will play on electronic devices (like an iPod). To capture the best sound possible, set the ripper at a higher level, like 24, 96 or even 192 bits resolution, which is what professionals use, and then play it through a hard drive.
Recordings made at higher sampling rates can always be converted to lower rates later if you want to burn them to a CD.
If you want to try professional quality software, Waves offers a spectacular freebie with its Restoration Bundle. You can download its $1,200 filters for removing static at no charge for a two-week trial. These filters work as add-ons, called plug-ins, with most sound editing programs.
To commit your work to CD, you need burning software. One program is about as good as the next, although there are subtle differences that will mean something to the technologically advanced.
One word of caution: not all burner software plays well together. If you use a software package that adds new burning software to your computer - like some of the suites discussed here - the new burner software may fight with the old software for control of your CD drive. Sometimes the program you want to use loses, and you cannot burn a disc. The simple solution to this problem is to get rid of all the burner programs except the one you like best. Uninstall the rejects carefully, though, so they will not leave behind pieces that could continue to bedevil your burner.
Cleaning up digitized recordings can take some practice. But won't you be pleased to be the only one on your block with a mix CD that includes Robert Ellis Orrall's "Call the Uh Oh Squad"?
GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI
* * * (R)
BY ROGER EBERT
It helps to understand that the hero of "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" is crazy. Well, of course he is. He lives in a shack on a rooftop with his pigeons. He dresses like a homeless man. "He has no friends and never talks to anybody," according to the mother of the little girl in the movie. Actually, he does talk: to the little girl and to a Haitian ice cream man. The Haitian speaks no English and Ghost Dog speaks no French, so they simply speak in their own languages and are satisfied with that. What's your diagnosis?
Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a killer for the mob. He got into this business because one day a mobster saved his life--and so, since he follows The Way of the Samurai, he must dedicate his life to his master. The mobster is named Louie (John Tormey). He orders hits by sending Ghost Dog messages by carrier pigeon. Ghost Dog insists on being paid once a year, on the first day of autumn. When the mob bosses want Ghost Dog rubbed out, they're startled to discover that Louie doesn't know his name or where he lives; their only contact is the pigeons.
It seems strange that a black man would devote his life to doing hired killing for a group of Italian-American gangsters after having met only one of them. But then it's strange, too, that Ghost Dog lives like a medieval Japanese samurai. The whole story is so strange, indeed, that I've read some of the other reviews in disbelief. Are movie critics so hammered by absurd plots that they can't see how truly, profoundly weird "Ghost Dog" is? The reviews treat it matter of factly: Yeah, here's this hit man, he lives like a samurai, he gets his instructions by pigeon, blah . . . blah . . . and then they start talking about the performances and how the director, Jim Jarmusch, is paying homage to Kurosawa and "High Noon."
But the man is insane! In a quiet, sweet way, he is totally unhinged and has lost all touch with reality. His profound sadness, which permeates the touching Whitaker performance, comes from his alienation from human society, his loneliness, his attempt to justify inhuman behavior (murder) with a belief system (the samurai code) that has no connection with his life or his world. Despite the years he's spent studying The Way of the Samurai, he doesn't even reflect that since his master doesn't subscribe to it, their relationship is meaningless.
I make this argument because I've seen "Ghost Dog" twice, and admired it more after I focused on the hero's insanity. The first time I saw it, at Cannes, I thought it was a little too precious, an exercise in ironic style, not substance. But look more deeply, and you see the self-destructive impulse that guides Ghost Dog in the closing scenes, as he sadly marches forth to practice his code in the face of people who only want to kill him (whether he survives is not the point).
Jarmusch is mixing styles here almost recklessly and I like the chances he takes. The gangsters (played by colorful character actors like Henry Silva, Richard Portnow, Cliff Gorman and Victor Argo) sit in their clubhouse doing sub-Scorsese while the Louie character tries to explain to them how he uses an invisible hit man. Ghost Dog, meanwhile, mopes sadly around the neighborhood, solemnly recommending Rashomon to a little girl ("you may want to wait and read it when you're a little older") and miscommunicating with the ice cream man. By the end, Whitaker's character has generated true poignance.
If the mobsters are on one level of reality and Ghost Dog on another, then how do we interpret some of the Dog's killings, particularly the one where he shoots a man by sneaking under his house and firing up through the lavatory pipe while the guy is shaving? This is a murder that demands Inspector Clouseau as its investigator. Jarmusch seems to have directed with his tongue in his cheek, his hand over his heart, and his head in the clouds. The result is weirdly intriguing.
Architects Unveil Revised Freedom Tower Design
By CHRISTINE HAUSER
Officials presented today the final design of the building to be constructed on the World Trade Center site, revealing a slender curving tower that will rise 1,776 feet above downtown New York City, a height symbolic of the year of America's independence.
The model of the Freedom Tower, as it is called, was presented by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Gov. George E. Pataki at Federal Hall National Memorial on Wall Street.
"This is a wonderful day not just for New York but for America," Mr. Bloomberg said. He said construction of the tower would represent a dramatic reclaiming of a part of the New York City skyline that was lost on Sept. 11, 2001, and that it formed an important milestone in the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan.
Mr. Pataki, in a speech before a white curtain was drawn back to reveal the design model in its first official presentation, said the tower was intended to serve as a memorial to those who died in the terror attacks and to show that "freedom will always triumph over terror."
The 70 occupied stories will rise 1,000 to 1,100 feet, more than 200 feet shorter than the twin towers. They will be capped by a mesh-like network of open levels intended to capture the wind flowing off the Hudson River that will feed a nest of wind turbines to produce energy for the building.
The tower area is 2.6 million square feet; at the crown there will be an observation deck and public place. While the structure would reach 1,776 feet, with the antenna perhaps soaring to 2,000 feet.
Its spire is intended to be evocative of the Statue of Liberty's upraised arm, David M. Childs, the architect, said.
"It must be iconic," Mr. Childs said. "Simple and pure in its form. That would proclaim the resiliency and spirit of our democracy."
"This is a momentous day," said Daniel Libeskind, the master planner of the site. He said the site must symbolize a memorial for the heroes who died there and it was also pertinent to the resurgence of Lower Manhattan.
The final design evolved after a compromise was reached and several design impasses were cleared.
Officials said that it would be the tallest structure in the world when it is completed in 2008 or 2009. The cornerstone will be laid by the third anniversary of the attacks next year.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation had called the design an "idea" by Mr. Libeskind that was "given form" by Mr. Childs, a partner in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
The east and west facades of the occupied parts of the tower will curve gently to create a torqued effect. They will be topped by the enormous open-air structure supported on twin concrete cores studded with the electricity-generating windmills and surrounded by a network of cables.
The windmills may generate 20 percent of the electrical power needed by the building.
Mr. Childs and Mr. Libeskind had disagreed about aesthetics, engineering and their own respective roles. They are also working for different clients whose interests sometimes conflict sharply.
As described by the development corporation, the tower will bear Mr. Libeskind's influence in its height.
Mr. Childs's contributions include the open-air structure at the top of the building, framed in cables reminiscent of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Bush on Phantom WMD: "What's The Difference?"
(from Liberal Oasis--posted Dec. 17 1 AM ET)
A fair amount of it was the typical softball questions we have come to expect.
But for about five minutes, Sawyer pressed Dubya on the question of the Phantom WMD harder than anyone has, perhaps harder than anyone has pressed him on anything since 9/11.
And in response, Dubya was defensive and evasive, clinging tightly to his talking points.
Judging from the wire reports of the interview, it doesn’t look like anyone in the mainstream media is going to pick up on the fact that when faced with such questions, Bush has no good direct response.
That's not surprising. In both those cases, Bush said something new, hence it is “news” by traditional standards.
Evading questions with old talking points doesn’t meet that standard.
(UPDATE Dec. 17 2 PM ET -- A late night AP writeup, that was mostly about the death penalty remark, did also touch upon Dubya's WMD remarks.)
Since the full transcript of the interview does not seem to be available on the internet anywhere, below is an extended excerpt (with a few helpful observations in parentheses) of the WMD portion of the interview.
This is the transcript of what the ABC audience saw. The interview appeared to be edited, and video clips and graphics were interspersed throughout.
It’s long, but worth reading. And more commentary to follow.
SAWYER: 50 percent of the American people have said that they think the Administration exaggerated the evidence going into the war with Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction, connection to terrorism.
Are the American people wrong? Misguided?
BUSH: No, the intelligence I operated on was good sound intelligence, the same intelligence that my predecessor operated on.
The – there is no doubt, uh, that Saddam Hussein was a threat. Uh, the – otherwise, the United Nations, by the way, wouldn’t have passed, y’know, resolution after resolution after resolution demanding that he disarm.
I first went to the United Nations, September the 12th 2002, and said:
“You’ve given this man resolution after resolution after resolution. He’s ignoring them. You step up, and see that he honor those resolutions. Otherwise you become a feckless debating society.”
And so for the sake of peace, and for the sake of freedom of the Iraqi people, and for the sake of security of the country, and for the sake of the credibility of international institutions, a group of us moved.
And the world is better for it.
(Bush shows look of self-satisfaction)
SAWYER: When you take a look back --
(Video clip of Dick Cheney saying, “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons -- ”)
SAWYER: -- Vice President Cheney said there is no doubt Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Not programs, not intent.
(Shot of Bush shifting in chair, looking a bit annoyed.)
SAWYER: There is no doubt he has weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary Powell --
(Video clip of Powell at UN saying, “Iraq today has a stockpile -- ”)
SAWYER: -- said a hundred to five hundred tons of chemical weapons.
And now the inspectors say that there’s no evidence of these weapons existing right now.
(Video clip of Bush at the State of the Union address saying, “significant quantities of uranium --”)
SAWYER: The yellowcake in Niger. George Tenet has said that shouldn’t have been in your speech.
(Graphic of Tenet and the quote “This was a mistake.” Cut to Bush cocking his head, still annoyed.)
SAWYER: Secretary Powell talked about mobile labs, again the intelligence, the inspectors have said they can’t confirm this, they can’t corroborate.
(Video of Bush at the SOTU again, saying, “suitable for nuclear weapons production -- ”)
SAWYER: “Nuclear” suggested that he was on the way on an active nuclear program.
(Bush’s right leg starts to bounce anxiously)
SAWYER: David Kay: “We have not discovered significant evidence of an active -- ”
BUSH: Yet. Yet.
SAWYER: Is it, “yet?”
BUSH: But what David Kay did discover was he had a weapons program. And had that knowledge --
BUSH: Let me finish for a second. No, it was more extensive than missiles.
Had that knowledge been, uh, examined by the United Nations, in other words, had David Kay’s report been placed in front of the United Nations, he, Saddam Hussein, would have been in breach of 1441, which meant it was a casus belli.
And, uh, look --
(Bush’s voice begins to rise)
BUSH: -- There’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person. And there’s no doubt we had a body of evidence proving that.
And there is no doubt that the president must act, after 9/11, to make America a more secure country.
(Look of self-satisfaction returns.)
SAWYER: Um, again I’m just trying to ask -- and these are supporters, people who believed in the war --
SAWYER: -- who have asked the question.
BUSH: Well you can keep asking the question, and my answer is going to be the same. Saddam was a danger, and the world is better off because we got rid of him.
(Raised voice cracks a bit on “rid.” A pause, then Bush shoots Sawyer an exasperated look as if to say “Get it?”, though with a bit of a smile.)
SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction, as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still --
BUSH: So what’s the difference?
SAWYER: Well --
BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were acquire weapons [sic], he would be the danger. That’s the -- that’s what I’m trying to explain to you.
A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be dealt with.
And it was done after 12 long years of the world saying, “the man’s a danger.” And so, we got rid of him.
And there’s no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.
SAWYER: But, but again some, some of the critics have said this, combined with the failure to establish proof of elaborate terrorism contacts, has indicated that there’s just not precision, at best, and misleading, at worst. [sic]
BUSH: Y’know, uh, look (shakes head). What (chuckle) what we based our evidence on was a very sound National Intelligence Estimate.
SAWYER: Nothing should have been more precise?
BUSH: I – I – I – I made my decision based upon enough intelligence to tell me that the country was threatened with Saddam Hussein in power.
SAWYER: What would it take to convince you he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction?
BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.
(Pause, as both smile.)
SAWYER: And if he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction --
BUSH: You can keep asking the question. I’m telling ya, I made the right decision for America.
Because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait.
But the fact that he is not there, is uh, means America is a more secure country.
So what can we take away from this, practically speaking?
That Bush doesn’t have good enough talking points to withstand serious questioning on this issue.
Now, Karl Rove may be compelled to tinker with them as a result. But until there’s evidence of that, the issue should be treated as a vulnerability.
Granted, this issue isn’t going to be put to Bush directly very often in the near future, as he already exposes himself very little to serious questioning.
And he signaled to Sawyer he has a bit of a Rose Garden strategy in mind for the campaign:
…early in the process there’ll be all kinds of pressures to respond to this, or respond to that…
…and I just want to warn you, I’m going to do my job. I got a lot to do. As we say, the dance card is quite full these days.
But if the eventual nominee starts to push the issue -- say, in springtime advertisements -- Bush may yet find himself under uncomfortable pressure.
Surely, there are downsides in flogging issues of “the past”, as pundits will complain you’re not talking about Iraq’s future.
But getting under your opponent’s skin has its benefits, taking off some of that commander-in-chief sheen.
And if Diane Sawyer can do that, think of the possibilities.