February, 2004

Copy Control

Can I just say here and now that I think EMI are idiots. Complete buffoons. I foolishly made the mistake of buying the new Norah Jones album on Friday – but despite being a fine collection of music, I really can’t recommend that anyone else should buy it.
EMI have been using their Copy Control mechanism on CDs for sometime now, and I’ve been avoiding buying any of their CDs that employ it. But I missed the large notice on the rear, and front spine on Friday.
The problems started when I tried to play it on my PC. I know, I know. But I still wanted to have a listen at my computer. I also wanted to copy it onto my minidisc player. The “CD” (it’s not a CD) launches its own player which uses a pre-encoded soundfile at a massive 128k to play on the PC.
My Sony “Sonic Stage” software refused to read the CD – preventing me copying directly to minidisc. “Simple Burner” – another MD copying program – did it, but as once I listened to the resulting tracks I realised they clicked and popped throughout. Result – unlistenable.
The various bits of ripping software that I have scattered around, like dbPoweramp and CDex all read a ripped the CD, but they also read all the deliberate errors.
After much faffing around, I finally used a program called Easy CD-EA Extractor as suggested here and finally I had WAV files that were listenable.
Why on earth should I have to go to all this trouble to listen to some music that I’ve bought? This doesn’t stop piracy. It positively encourages it. I like to think of myself as pretty clued on these things, but if even I have to jump through so many hoops to get audio off a CD I’ve bought and onto a portable listening device, then I feel for the average consumer. Save the hassle and download the album seems to be the message they’re giving out.
Norah Jones is going to sell CDs by the bucket load. I look around my place of work and see all the people who’ve bought iPods, and despair at the thought of them trying to get their music onto their portable machines.
So that’s the last EMI CD I buy until they ditch this stupid mechanism. And the more record companies that employ this protection, the fewer CDs I will buy.
The really stupid thing is that any CD can be pirated one way or another. I can record from the digital out of a CD player to whatever medium. And once it’s out there, it’s out there.
Supposedly, EMI are in trouble at the moment. Copy Control is not going alleviate this.

Ratings Madness

This kind of story really annoys me. The BBC put on something slightly more challenging than the heap of manure that is Footballers’ Wives, and they get attacked from all sides. Why should a drama that’s slightly more demanding be moved to BBC2. I really dislike this “move a show after two episodes” nonsense that’s taken over UK television.
If we’re only to have drama series at the level of US network television, then that’s the way to go. If we want something better then we have to take chances in primetime with more demanding fare.

Ray Snoddy in Marketing

Ray Snoddy has a good piece in today’s Marketing magazine talking about the BBC Silly Season that we are now beginning to endure (Here somewhere, but you’ll need a subscription). I mentioned this myself the other day after the Sunday papers went a bit mad.
Snoddy suggests that these stories will continue until the government publishes a Green Paper on the BBC’s Charter Renewal towards the end of this year or at the start of next. As a media editor of The Times, I note that he doesn’t mention his sister paper as being the source for the “splitting the BBC into four” story. You can’t hold him accountable I guess.
Another interesting note from this column was the one on David Elstein’s independent committee reporting on the BBC’s future. Snoddy says that a couple of members have left this committee before the report is in, so nonsensical are some of the suggestions. The committee was asked to report by the former Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, and of course Elstein is not exactly an independent himself – he’s still very much a player. Still I look forward to the committee’s report once it’s published.

Atomised

Another author that I’m reading backwards is Michel Houellebecq. His breakthrough novel was Atomised, almost an architypal tube book. His most recently translated/published paperback was Platform which I read last year. I see that Lanzarote is published this summer, keeping up the cover theme of having a scantily clad model on the cover.
I’m not too sure about Houllebecq – his work is eminently readable, but sometimes the authorial voice sounds ever-so unreconstructed. Now that might be the characters, but on a reading of two of his books, he seems to do those attitudes awfully well.
He’s certainly an elegant writer, who’s supremely translated in a chatty style. The ideas are intelligent – there’s no doubt that he’s French. Philosophical ideas are important to him.
Atomised tells the story of two half-brothers who were brought up separately, neither of them in great surroundings, and with sexual identity problems. Mixed into this is lots of sex and some interesting mathematical and genetic ideas.
To be honest my mind was drifting off towards the end of the book – although the process of reading the book was somewhat enlivened by my “losing” the book, having to purchase another copy, and subsequently finding my “lost” copy. Still Waterstones were kind enough to let me exchange it for something else.

Awards

It’s the award season again, so I’ll stick my neck out and have a shot at Oscar predictions based on winners so far, and who I think the Academy will pick as their winners. Note that this does NOT take into account who should actually win. That’d never do.
The weekend saw The BAFTAS and Lost in Translation cleaned up with the main actor and actress roles, while Lord of the Rings: Return of the King did well in the major categories, and Peter Weir won the best director. I was most pleased to see Touching the Void win British film of the year.
But back to my Oscar predictions, in which I don’t even have to have seen the films to pick the winner!
Best Film – Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Best Actor – Sean Penn, Mystic River
Best Actress – Charlize Theron, Monster
Best Director – Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings
Actor in a Supporting Role – Benicio Del Toro, 21 Grams
Actress in a Supporting Role – Ren�e Zellwegger, Cold Mountain
Animated Feature – Finding Nemo
Art Direction – Master and Commander
Cinematography – Girl With A Pearl Earring
Costume Design – Lord of the Rings
Film Editing – Lord of the Rings
Makeup – Lord of the Rings
Music – Cold Mountain
Music (Song) – Cold Mountain
Sound Editing – Master and Commander
Sound Mixing – Lord of the Rings
Visual Effects – Lord of the Rings
Writing (Adapted Screenplay) – Lord of the Rings
Writing (Original Screenplay) – Lost in Translation
I’ll come back to this to see how many I got right.
(The Guardian has an entertaining predictor Excel sheet for the overall Oscar winner)

Bodies

Good to see that Jed Mercurio’s back in the medical TV saddle. We have a TV series based around his novel, Bodies, to look forward to.
Some years ago, Mercurio wrote Cardiac Arrest, a series that I really enjoyed at the time. Based on the experiences during the first years of a junior doctor in a central Glasgow hospital, it painted a somewhat less rosy picture of hospital life than you’d get in ER. Bodies, the novel, continued many of those themes, and undoubtedly this will be a different look at hospital life compared with Casualty and Holby City.
I note that it’s going out on BBC3 first, with a later transfer to BBC2. I’m a little apprehensive about this since BBC3 dramas haven’t exactly overwhelmed me recently. There’s certainly creativity in the comedy department, but I’m still awaiting the first killer drama series from them (and showing next week’s episode of Spooks or 24 don’t count).

The Last King of Scotland

Giles Foden’s first book was this Whitbread winning novel from 1998. We follow a young doctor who accepts work in Uganda around the time that Idi Amin was coming to power, and who eventually becomes both Amin’s personal doctor as well as a confident of sorts.
As such, Idi Amin is a fictionalised character in this novel, coming across as a very real person. That he was quite possibly psychotic is never far away from the surface.
That completes the published Foden oeuvre to date. The next Foden novel is Mimi and Toutou’s Big Adventure due in September, so I shall look forward to that with pleasure.

The Dreamers

Bernardo Bertolucci’s latest is The Dreamers, about which I wrote a little recently. Now I’ve finally got to see the film.
Set in 1968 Paris, Matthew is an American student and cinephile who’s befriended by twins Isabelle and Theo. He moves in with them in their wonderful Parisien flat. And then things take a turn for the… well… stranger. Isabelle and Theo’s relationship is not quite as most brother/sister relationships are. A step away from incestuous would be accurate.
The film doesn’t really go anywhere, and the ending is ultimately unsatisfying, but as movie for cineastes, it takes some beating. Wonderful music too.
But why was there a “thank you” to the Isle of Jura in the credits? Is someone a big whisky drinker?

Serious Tabloid

Francis Wheen seems to be attached to the proposed high-brow tabloid that is in the early stages of being launched. He’s certainly a credible addition to the venture, but you do have to ask the question – is there room for a new paper?
I can quite easily buy the argument that some of our broadsheets are going downmarket – The Times and Daily Telegraph could be said to have fallen into this category. But it’s quite possible that the new Telegraph owners could drag it back upmarket, and I’d certainly argue that The Independent and The Guardian remain upmarket titles. The Independent will be fully tabloid in a matter of months, so that issue is out the window, and I don’t really see the reason for dropping photos to a large extent.
It all seems a bit like the Sunday Correspondent which had a short run back in the late 80s but only lasted a short while. The only real difference would be not taking a left-leaning political stance as a title. But the Indy and Guardian aren’t exactly daily editions of the Socialist Worker.
Maybe a new weekly magazine would have a better chance. Something not as overtly political as the New Statesman or The Spectator. A weekly version of Prospect perhaps?