Unreadable (and unrippable) CDs

Like many others, I followed the Sony rootkit saga with interest, feeling relieved that as a Mac user I was probably immune to such stuff. But I guess DRM is inescapable. Recently I’ve purchased two CDs that play just fine in a CD player but are unreadable on my Mac (or on a PC). The first was Enya’s latest, Amarantine. I inserted it into my PowerBook, the drive made seeking noises for a few seconds, and then the CD was ejected. Hmm. Last weekend I picked up At Blackwater Pond : Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver. Same thing. Frustrating.
UPDATE: The folks at Beacon Press (publishers of the Mary Oliver CD) got back to me and said they hadn’t seen this before. So I decided to shut down my Powerbook and reboot it. Normally I just put it to sleep when I’m travelling; I often go for several months without rebooting. After this I was able to read the Mary Oliver CD, although ripping was unusually slow – around 1.2x. Sadly, the Enya CD remains unreadable.

Weinberg on design

A couple of days ago the Bishop of Oxford wrote an op-ed piece for the Observer asserting (but not arguing) that “Science does not challenge my faith – it strengthens it”. Most of the piece is devoted to attacking what he called “the current bout of media atheism”, and arguing that we should concentrate on the best of religion, not the worst. Fair enough. In today’s Comment is Free, James Randerson responds head-on. “Surely the best justification for having God in your life is that it gives you a set of moral rules to live by,” he says – and then goes on to point out that in practice there is a strong positive correlation between religious belief and violent, anti-social behaviour. Hmmm. He concludes:

On their own, these studies aren’t good enough to proves that religion is the source of all these social problems – although it is tempting to think that it might be. But it kicks the idea that faith makes for a better and more moral society firmly into touch. So if even the best arguments for religion are found wanting, we’re inevitably left asking what is God for? To those of us who reject faith, the idea that without God we are incapable of behaving morally is the most offensive and patronising myth peddled by religion.
Which of these is the better person, I would ask? The atheist who practices “Christian” values because he has decided of his own free will that kindness and consideration for others are the best way to live his life, or the believer, whose moral actions are carried out with half an eye on reward in Heaven or punishment in Hell?

But that’s not what prompted me to blog about this. I was reading the comments on Randerson’s piece, and a reader with the nom de plume andrewthomas100 posted a link to a wonderful lecture by Steven Weinberg that I hadn’t seen before. Money quote:

The question that seems to me to be worth answering, and perhaps not impossible to answer, is whether the universe shows signs of having been designed by a deity more or less like those of traditional monotheistic religions—not necessarily a figure from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but at least some sort of personality, some intelligence, who created the universe and has some special concern with life, in particular with human life. I expect that this is not the idea of a designer held by many here. You may tell me that you are thinking of something much more abstract, some cosmic spirit of order and harmony, as Einstein did. You are certainly free to think that way, but then I don’t know why you use words like ‘designer’ or ‘God,’ except perhaps as a form of protective coloration.

And then he systematically and patiently demolishes one piece of special pleading after another. His treatment of the various “anthropic” arguments is particularly thorough. Recommended.

Random 10

I’ve got a number of new CDs to load into iTunes: three of the Aria collection, two new Back To Mine compilations, and the new Streets. But until then, this is what iTunes is playing for me:

  • “See No Evil” by Television (from Marquee Moon)
  • “Isle Of View (Music For Helicopter Pilots)” by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra (from When In Rome)
  • “Heartless” by Heart (from These Dreams: Heart’s Greatest Hits)
  • “Teenage Kicks” by the Undertones
  • “In Through Time” by Govinda (from Buddha Bar 2)
  • “Pure Narcotic” by Porcupine Tree (from Lightbulb Sun)
  • “I Am The Walrus (‘No You’re Not’, Said Little Nicola)” by Men Without Hats (from Sideways)
  • “East Of Shanghai” by the Legendary Pink Dots (from Four Days)
  • “Path Of Destiny(自ら切り開 運命)” by 中鶴潤 (from the soundtrack to the video game Soulcalibur II)
  • “The Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe” by the Robert Mellin Orchestra (from Back To Mine: Orbital)

I wonder how the Japanese characters for “Path Of Destiny” will come out. I was surprised to find that the Soulcalibur II soundtrack was in the GraceNote database; I just hope the information is accurate.

France on Cape Cod

We’re back in Brookline, having returned a day early. (I had an unexpected meeting here in the Boston area.) We packed up on Monday afternoon (occasionally peeking at the television to check out the progress of the Boston Marathon), then stopped off in Mashpee for a little shopping and dinner. On an earlier visit, I’d spotted an intriguing restaurant, and I wanted to check it out. Bleu Restaurant proved to be a revelation: one of the best French restaurants I’ve found in the US.
[WARNING: Food porn follows.]
I had the shepherds pie – but this was unlike any shepherds pie I’d tasted before. Perfect creamed potatoes over shredded braised lamb shank with sweet onion, mushrooms and leeks. (I’m determined to try to replicate this at home.) Merry had a “simple” roast chicken: crusted with sea salt and rosemary, started in the oven and finished on an open wood grill. The flavour and texture were sublime. They offered some of their very best wines by the glass, and the service was exemplary. If only it wasn’t so far from Boston…

Down on the Cape

We’re down on Cape Cod for a long weekend. We own a week at a time-share condo in Brewster that usually coincides with mid-term school holidays; this year it also includes Easter. Surprisingly things are really quiet here: we drove down yesterday, and the traffic was light all the way. Today we visited “P’town” (Provincetown): we zoomed up Route 6 at the speed limit with hardly any other traffic in sight. When we got there at 11am it was still foggy, but it burned off within an hour. By the time we left late in the afternoon, the number of visitors was looking more respectable, and a drag queen diva with a karaoke machine was drawing a good crowd in the town centre.
Monday is the day of the Boston Marathon, which passes through Brookline; it’s a good day to be out of town. We plan to stay here until Tuesday morning and then head back quite early.

The only direction is onward

Andrew Sullivan has a couple of guest bloggers while he’s visiting England (sniff!). One of them, Walter Kirn, grabbed my attention with an account of how he’s writing his new novel…

…spinning a tale before one knows the ending, and doing so without the opportunity to double back and fiddle with the beginning, is storytelling in its wild, natural state…. Next time you make up a children’s bedtime story, you’ll see exactly what I mean. The only direction is onward. Trust in inspiration, not second thoughts. In foresight, not hindsight. In spells, not science. And glance around the bedroom for ideas. That painting of a sailing ship? It’s time to send one of your characters to sea, perhaps. That other painting of an idyllic farm? That’s what your character dreams of once he’s shipwrecked on the barren Pacific island.

What a lovely way to think about story-telling: as a performance, not as designing something to fit into a book-shaped container.

Administrivia – blogspam

I’m getting a steady stream of blogspam directed at my blog: around 100 hits a day. The combination of comment moderation and spam filtering means that none of it has got through to pollute the site, but checking for false positives is getting a little tedious. One change I’ve just made is to automatically disable comments on each entry 21 days after I post it. This is unfortunate: some of the most amusing comments have been from people who discovered one of my postings months or years after the event, but c’est la vie.

Random 10

It’s that (over)time again.

  • “Mooga (Hemstock & Jennings Remix)” by Digital Blond (from Trance Nation Future)
  • “Be For Real” by Leonard Cohen (from The Future)
  • “I Don’t Believe You” by Al Stewart (from Orange)
  • “Small Talk” by Scritti Politti (from Cupid & Psyche 85)
  • “Men Of Wood” by Porcupine Tree (from Stars Die – The Delerium Years)
  • “The Plasma Twins” by the Legendary Pink Dots (from Any Day Now)
  • “Please Mr Postman” by the Carpenters (from Singles (1969-1981))
  • “Sudden Life” by Man (from Psychedelic Years – Back In The British Isles)
  • “Born To Run” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood (from Bang! The Greatest Hits)
  • “Ska’d For Life (Instrumental Mix)” by Orbital (from Back To Mine: Orbital)

Of these tracks, the most unusual is probably “Sudden Life” by the Welsh prog-rockers Man. However my favourite is “Small Talk” from Scritti Politti’s brilliant Cupid & Psyche 85. Here‘s what the reviewer at MP3.com has to say about it:

Cupid & Psyche 85, released in June of 1985, was a landmark album in many respects. No prior pop album had integrated the techniques of sampling and sequencing to such a great degree, and the technology of that time was both expensive to use and barely up to the task Scritti Politti demanded of it. Gartside’s typically high-flown verbiage was as evident here as anywhere, but you didn’t need to understand what he sang in order to enjoy the music. Certain songs are dialogues between Gartside and a female singer; as such, “A Little Knowledge” is a rare pop song that retains the characteristics of a mini-tragedy. Likewise, the bonus track of “Flesh and Blood,” featuring Jamaican rapper Ann Swinton, sounds remarkably fresh and contemporary 20 years on. But the big hits from Cupid & Psyche 85 were “Wood Beez” and “The Word Girl” in the U.K., and “The Perfect Way” in the U.S., which reached number 11 in the Billboard Hot 100 and got heavy rotation on MTV. Not many albums from smack in the middle of the “Big ’80s” can be said to possess the quality of timelessness, but Cupid & Psyche 85 most certainly does.

Equal time for storks?

Here’s an apt comparison reported by the Guardian

Last night, the Royal Society gave a public platform to Steve Jones, the award-winning geneticist and author, to deliver a lecture entitled Why Creationism Is Wrong and Evolution Is Right. Professor Jones said that suggesting that creationism and evolution be given equal weight in education was “to me, rather like starting genetics lectures by discussing the theory that babies are brought by storks.”

Exactly so.
Update: Alec has more.