Washing of the Water

Posted on 27th August 2008

A couple of weeks ago I was in Copenhagen for YAPC::Europe, which was a blast. I did my Understanding Malware talk, which seems to have gone down well, and the posters even better!

Before leaving the UK I finally bought a new camera, a Canon EOS 40D. Unfortunately this was my first time using the camera and I was a little disappointed that I wasn't able to get the same quality of photos as my Fuji FinePix 5100. As such don't expect anything too much from these photos. Hopefully over the coming months I'll get used to the camera and improve the picture quality.

For some personal observations of the conference, see my use.perl post about it. I may do a more detailed write-up about the talks I saw and the discussions I had too at some point, but that's it for now. Anyway, enjoy the photos.

File Under: community / conference / copenhagen / opensource / perl / yapc

Dirty Laundry

Posted on 5th August 2008

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don't have a lot of respect for Record Companies these days. Once upon a time their founders and executives were people who had a passion for the music, and were more interested in investing and supporting their artists, with a view of the long haul. For some bands, such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, U2 and many others, the rewards have been emmense for all concerned. However, since the mid-80s the major labels have bought each other out, or merged to the point we now have only 4 companies effectively deciding the future of the music industry in the US and Europe. None of the executives are in it for the music, and probably wouldn't even be able to name half of the artists they look after.

As such it is no surprise that the music sharing litigation debacles that has been lingering around for the last 8 years, are still going strong. In one case, Tanya Andersen was falsely accused by the RIAA of illegal file sharing. Now in most instances that story wouldn't make much of an impression. However, what came to light in this case is that the RIAA (and consequently the big 4 behind that organisation), were so determined to win the case they tried to contact Tanya's daughter, in order for her to confess of her mother's file sharing activities. Now bearing in mind the fact that Tanya's daughter is 8 years old, and that investigators had made several attempts to contact her daughter, including contacting her elementary school (primary school for UK readers), without Tanya's knowledge or permission, many would consider that intimidation.

Tanya's lawyers have now filed a suit for $5 million, for malicious prosecution, "alleging fraud, racketeering, and deceptive business practices by the record labels." I sincerely hope she wins the case, sending a message to all those ripping the credibility out of what was once a great music industry, that bullies and money grabbing tactics are not wanted here. If she wins, it could lead to a class-action suit, opening the floodgates for others who have also been falsely accused. In a recent update to the ongoing action, Tanya's lawyer was awarded $103,175 in legal fees following the dropping of the charges against Tanya. In another story it seems the tactics are now finally being investigated in North Carolina. If it's illegal for anyone to hack into a company computer, why do these record companies think it's legal to hack into an individual's computer? These aren't isolated stories either, there appear to be several cases that are taking on the RIAA.

I'm just hoping that the BPI are also paying attention to these cases, and don't follow the same bully-boy tactics after their attempts 2 years ago to get the ISPs to terminate accounts without evidence. With the recent announcement that ISPs are now going to signup to an agreement, I can see several customers becoming innocent victims. Hopefully some will be made aware of Tanya Andersen's case and follow a similar legal path.

File Under: law / music / rant

This Corrosion

Posted on 4th August 2008

Every so often songs manage to become hits, that just annoy the hell out of you. Some are annoying because they lack any musical (and sometime any other) talent, some are just plain wrong, while others seem to have been made, just to see how much of a kick they can get out of being annoying.

One of the earliest I can remember was one that every self-respecting Ultravox fan despises with a passion. Joe Dolce's Shaddap You Face. It kept Vienna from being Number 1 in the UK singles charts in 1981. Shaddap You Face was a self confessed novelty song, so was purposefully annoying, and the fact that it kept a great song from being given the due it deserved just emphasised it's annoyance to many teenagers at the time.

Since then there have still been novelty records, but they rarely got to the same level of annoyance. That was left to what would often appear to be young, naive and ignorant girls. The first of which is Alanis Morrissette. I doubt anyone would be too surprised to know the song I have in mind is Ironic. That's the song title, not it's contents. Morrissette herself now claims that the irony of the song is that it is NOT filled with ironies. But somehow I don't think that was the intention when she co-wrote the song. Had she said it in interviews about the album, which was already a hit before she released Ironic as a single, then possibly, but to wait 9 years to suddenly say you meant it to be like that all along is a little far fetched.

Then there are the factually annoying. Sandi Thom wrote I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair) about her desire to be a part of two musical movements that had a big impact on the pop music scene. The first was the flower power times and the second was punk rock. The lyrics state "In seventy-seven and sixty-nine revolution was in the air". Well it might have been somewhere in the world, but for both of the musical movements she cites, the revolution had been and gone. Punk was mainstream in 1977, the revolution of change started in 1974 and throughout 1975 and particularly 1976, the underground music scene, as it was then, was challenging the music establishment and taking them on and beating them into submission. By 1977 The Clash, The Damned, The Sex Pistols and The Stranglers all had record deals and 3 had had top 40 hits. The establishment had already consumed the revolution. However, the earlier faus pax is perhaps understandable as many credit Woodstock as being the first major concert of peace and love. However, they do it simply because the film of Woodstock in 1969, was made into a major motion picture movie, unlike the Monterey Pop Festival (also filmed by Pennebacker) in 1967. John Phillips, from The Mamas And The Papas, was the man behind the Monterey Pop Festival, and brought together many of those same artists two years earlier than Woodstock, it was just that Monterey was done with a bit more professionalism and wasn't a cock-up from start to finish. It was also John Phillips who wrote the song for Scott McKenzie, San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), that Thom references in her lyrics. However, seeing as that song was released in 1967, I would have thought Thom might have done a little research and got it right. By 1969 the flower power revolution had been taken over by the protests of the Vietnam War. The original movement was really at it's peak in what it more widely refered to as the Summer Of Love, in 1967.

Then we come to the select group of songs, that think that because the likes of Sugababes (Freak Like Me/Are 'Friends' Electric?) and Run DMC (Walk This Way with the help of the original writers and performers, Aerosmith) can combine two very different styles and create something new and even better than the original. That they only need to add their inane banter to classic songs and make a pot of cash. In this case I'm particularly pointing the finger at Gym Class Heroes (or Gym Slip Heroes as I misheard their name, which seems more appropriate for their sixth-form lyrics) and their butchering of Supertramp's Breakfast In America, for their 2006 release Cupid's Chokehold. Why? Or more accurately, why did the British public take it to Number 3? Unfortunately BRMB still think it should be a hit, as they are still insisting on playing it a over year later.

However, in more recent times, with plenty of examples from the past, there has been the glut of "celebrity" collaborations. Estelle & Kanye West's effort particularly grates on me, especially the drone of the title lyric. It must be a sad state of affairs if that's the best soul music can offer this days. I would perhaps add Madonna and Justin Timberlake, but both have long since pased their sell by date. History is littered with collaborations which have never matched their individual success, and while there have been some jewels (the aforementioned Run DMC and Aerosmith for example), I would like to hope that any future big name collaborations consider whether the result actually is worth adding to the pile of mediocre and worse! In the current chart there are 13 such collaborations and for me personally none of them are worth the effort to make them.

I probably can't blame the artists all the way, as record companies also have a long history of only wanting to make a quick buck. Perhaps the biggest reason these types of records really annoy the hell out of me, is the fact that there are so many young bands that get pushed aside, who have more talent in their little fingers than many of these "celebrity" artists. I've seen so many young bands play as support acts over the years, that never got the chance to show how good they were, because the record industry had decided they weren't fashionable or manipulatable. Some managed to perserve, but it's never easy. Once upon a time the training ground for talent was in the pub and club gigs up and down the M1 and M6, with the gear in the back of a Ford transit van. These days you could be forgiven for believing you have to be a failed beautician or receptionist. Is it any wonder the charts are such a disgrace these days. Or am I just too old?

File Under: music / rant

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