One symbol of how amazing the internet has become is that you can saunter on over to the Internet Archive and download the original, very first recording of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. (That’s part one, and part two is here.) It’s a digital conversion of the original 1924 acoustic recording — as in, a recording made by the pressure of the audio waves causing an engraving onto wax — and it’s simply awesome. For those who don’t speak the cryptic language of computer audio formats, the download you want is the “VBR ZIP”, which is a variable bit rate MP3 file that provides the best quality of all the files available from the Archive.

(And while the point of this post isn’t to lambaste the state of copyright in the US, it does serve to point out that we wouldn’t be able to listen to this amazing recording if the Congress of the mid-twentieth century treated copyright like our current one does. Since 1960, Congress has extended the length an artistic work remains under copyright eleven times, all at the behest of media and entertainment companies. Without some sort of change, it’s doubtful that our grandkids will be able to download recordings of the Gershwins of today without violating someone’s copyright, and that’s a true shame.)

A few weekend short takes:

Shannon and I are in London for the holidays, so in an effort to clear off some of the tabs in my browser, here are some of the things I’ve been hoarding in my bookmarks.

  • The guy behind did an amazing job over the past month figuring out the sham behind Noka chocolates, and published a ten-part series reporting his results. It’s an amazing bit of investigation, really.
  • Security expert Bruce Schneier finally weighed in on the Automated Targeting System, the U.S. government system that assigns each of us a score which pretends to predict the terror threat we pose. Unsurprisingly, he finds it a waste of money, time, and effort.
  • For those of you considering buying a .Mac account, you might want to read John Siracusa’s rant — it’s written from the perspective of a developer thinking about implementing some of the synchronization features of .Mac, but he also goes into some detail about his disappointment with the service.
  • Anil’s obit of James Brown is a must-read. So go read it.

Is there an single person anywhere who thinks that Pink’s NBC Sunday Night Football intro are sexy, or anything but supremely disturbing? I can’t figure out what part of the NFL demographic she’s supposed to appeal to; she’s just gross, and the intro bit makes her even nastier.

Now seems as good a time as any to dump a few links here that have accumulated in tabs in my browser over yesterday and today:

  • Michael Bronner has a fantastic article over at Vanity Fair’s website that uses the recordings of NORAD’s efforts the morning of 9/11 to paint the picture of just how unprepared our country was to deal with the attacks, and how chaotic the information flow was as it reached from the trenches up to those invested in protecting the airspace of the East coast. I guess it doesn’t surprise me how difficult it was for the commander of the Northeast Air Defense Sector to get reliable information that morning, but it’s astounding nonetheless, and in all honesty it serves as a potent argument for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and the establishment of clear and decisive plans for dealing with crises on the scale of 9/11.
  • Pamela Colloff has an equally fantastic article in the latest Texas Monthly about Charles Whitman’s massacre from the top of the University of Texas Tower 40 years ago yesterday, an article that’s almost entirely told through the first-person words of people who were in the thick of it. It’s a very moving piece, and gives a voice to how shocking the event was at the time, and how different the immediate police response was in 1966 than it’d be in 2006. (via MetaFilter, which has a bunch more links to related info)
  • Dahlia Lithwick took a look this past weekend at privacy rights in the age of weblogs, using the affair between Robert Steinbuch and Jessica Cutler (the skanky ex-Capitol Hill assistant who was once better-known as Washingtonienne) as her focal point. I’m not sure if this is the first time, but I found myself disagreeing with Lithwick’s final point, that Cutler’s exposition of the affair on her weblog might have violated Steinbuch’s privacy. It seems to me that a person has every right (absent a specific contract to the contrary) to talk about that which is going on in his or her own life; it’s not like Cutler was passing on a rumor of someone else’s affair, she was talking about her own sexcapades.
  • In August of 1958, young and new-to-the-business photographer Art Kane was tasked by Esquire Magazine with taking a photo to illustrate an article about jazz. He wasn’t entirely sure how best to approach the assignment, so he started out by doing something I’m sure he felt would be a failure: he contacted as many major New York City jazz musicians as he could, and asked if they would meet on 126th Street at 10 o’clock in the morning. Much to his surprise, 57 of them showed up, leading to one of the most amazing photos I’ve ever seen. My favorite bit of the photo is the lower right corner, in which Dizzy Gillespie’s goofing off caused Roy Eldridge to turn around just as the image was captured. (via kottke)

Because I like polluting my home page with scary images from the depths of my CD collection, I bring you this little guessing game: Name That Band!

name that band!

(As a bit of a sidenote, Shannon and I are both ripping all of our CDs to a server so that we can put them into deep storage forevermore. As I was ripping this one, she came in and incredulously asked, “You’re not just throwing that away?!?” Fair point… but I’m a sucker for the music of my teenage years.)

Oh my god, I remember being mesmerized by the Sesame Street pinball number counting clip every single time it came on when I was a kid. I could be in our family room doing something else entirely, and as soon as I heard the chant-like number that starts the video, I’d drop everything, stare at the funky colors, and get into the music. Just listening to it brings back so much.

Some things I never knew: the song is officially titled “Pinball Number Count,” there were eleven versions of the video (two through twelve, with no version ever done for the number one), and the song was sung by none other than the Pointer Sisters. Awesome. (Via Matt.)

I’ve been told by friends that know my music tastes that I’d really enjoy Coldplay. (Mind you, it’s not like I’ve never heard the band, but all I have heard is the songs that get playtime on Boston radio.) It appears, though, that Coldplay has included in their latest album an entire list of things you’re not allowed to do with it, a list which includes a ban against converting the songs to MP3s (meaning you cannot load it onto your iPod or into iTunes). It also warns you that the technology used to “protect” the CD might prevent it from playing in a whole slew of everyday CD players… and the best thing is that this whole list is on the inside of the jewel case, and inaccessible to buyers until after they’ve forked over their money. (On the album’s Amazon page, it turns out that there are a few reviews warning against this very thing.)

It’ll be so nice when bands and their labels come together to stop screwing consumers. Is there any doubt that the simple existence of a vibrant MP3 player market has driven a huge amount of interest in music? What would possess labels to turn their back on all these potential consumers? (Of course, the reason that Coldplay’s restricted-use list appears inside the jewel case is that, were it to be in plain sight on the outside, there would likely be a lot less people buying the album… so in the end, the labels hope that consumers are just too uninformed to know about the screwing until after it’s been done.)

Well, isn’t this sad news: Ibrahim Ferrer died at the age of 78 today, having been in declining health for the past few months. Ferrer was one of the most recognizable lead voices of Buena Vista Social Club, and will likely always be one of my favorite musicians. Shannon and I were fortunate to get to see him at the Beacon in New York back in November of 2001, one of the more memorable concerts in my life. Sadly, our government didn’t see Ferrer in the same light, denying him a visa last year (calling it “detrimental to the interests of the United States” to let Ferrer into the country) and thus preventing him from accepting a Grammy award.

Ibrahim, you will be missed.

Damn, it’s been a whole week since I’ve posted anything at all! I guess that’s what happens when I’m on the second of back-to-back weeks on call, and when on top of that, I have a project that needs to be done stat at work. So, in lieu of something more focused, here are the things that I’ve enjoyed over the past week:

  • watching Brad Choate’s new SpamLookup plug-in for Movable Type fill up my logs with notices about blocked TrackBack spam. After an initial brain fart trying to install the plug-in, I got it all set up, and haven’t seen a single one slip through since. (Of course, given that I was getting about 500 spammed TrackBacks for every legit one, and was seriously considering abandoning it as a result, it’ll take a little while to know if SpamLookup is truly the answer.)
  • the National Geographic Photo of the Day. There have been some unbelievably amazing shots in the past week, enough that I’m starting to get my photography jag back. (Must remember to get the light leak in my Contax SLR fixed!)
  • the weather in Boston, which has emerged from the subarctic temperatures we had come to expect and hit seventy twice! (Must start thinking about getting the air conditioners into the windows!)
  • the completely unencumbered ease of using Ajax (or XMLHttpRequest, or whatever you want to call it to avoid meaningless religious wars) to develop web applications. The project I’m completing at the hospital is a web-based database for storing tissue specimens, and having this tool in the toolbox makes for an unbelievably more usable and intuitive interface, something that makes me as happy as the end users.
  • Will Smith’s Switch and Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl; what can I say, I’m a sucker for a silly song with a good beat.

This morning (don’t you love that 12:55 PM is “morning”?), I’ll share a few links that found their way into all the tabs I have open, waiting to be read. The sharing is partly because I have to update my web browser, so I’ll be losing all those tabs soon; it’s also partly because they’re all share-worthy.

  • The City Record and Boston News-Letter: this is a (TypePad-driven!) site run by Charles Swift and devoted to Boston’s history; Charles came across my June 2003 post about moving to Boston and wanting to spend time delving into the history of the region, and was kind enough to drop me a line overnight letting me know about his site. This is the kind of weblog that sits smack in the middle of my danger territory — I could start reading it, and get so engrossed and so obsessive that I might never come out.
  • Guide to Using XmlHttpRequest (with Baby Steps): I posted last Monday about Jesse James Garrett’s piece on Ajax, the newest Big Thing in web development, but lamented that there still wasn’t a user-level guide on implementing it. Well, now Bill Bercik has done that, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m currently finishing off the reimplementation of one of my web applications in PHP, and after reading Bill’s piece, I’ve already started forming a mental checklist of places that I might want to think about using Ajax in v2.1 of the app.
  • The MN Musolfs: OK, this one is mostly personal — it’s the new Blogger site of a friend of mine. The part of it that isn’t personal, and what motivated me to include it in the list, is that she (or her husband) is a natural-born blogger; in one page of posts, there are baby pictures, recipes (a hot tuna wrap!), and laments about the cancellation of the NHL season. I can’t wait to see where the site goes, and it’s nice to have the added way of keeping up with long-distance friends.
  • Rolling with Ruby on Rails: this is a O’Reilly review of the web development technology that’s being called The Way Of The Future, and while I’ve been at this long enough to know that there’s as much hype as reality in claims like that, I’ve also been at this long enough to know that, at a minimum, being called that means that the technology is at least interesting. And according to this MetaFilter thread, some of my favorite websites were built using RoR. So I’ll give it a read.
  • Stage Fright Remedy: this is a brother-sister guitar and vocal duo that Shannon and I heard on the “Talent from Twelve to Twenty” Prairie Home Companion show last weekend, and even though they didn’t win the competition, we really liked them. Turns out that they’ve got music online, and it’s already made its way onto both of our iPods. (Of note, I also loved the bluegrass music of The Lovell Sisters Band, but they’ve got nothing online, so it’s hard for me to keep listening to them!)