Sure, it’s pointless, but… well… that’s the point

I have a pair of old Macs that have been sitting unused, or almost unused. The “hemisphere” iMac G4, dating back to 2002, has been the kids’ computer, sort of… except for the fact that they don’t really ever use it. And the “toilet seat” iBook G3, from 2000, has been gathering dust in our bedroom closet for the past year or so, since I tried and failed to install Ubuntu 7.10 on it.

Today various factors came together to lead me to bring the iMac, and the desk it was sitting on, down from the kids’ bedroom and into my office. Now that I have it, I might as well do something with it. And that something is installing the PowerPC version of Ubuntu 8.04. And as long as I had set up desk space for antiquated Macs, I lugged out the ol’ toilet seat and decided to, at the very least, get it back up and running with an OS it was more comfortable with, that being Mac OS 9.1. (I’m working on upgrading it to 9.2.2 at the moment, but 9.1 was the most recent “Classic” installer disc I had on hand.)

And all of this leads to the following, most improbable of photographs. What’s the point? Well… I got to take this photo! Is that point enough for you?

iMac G4 running Ubuntu 8.04, and iBook G3 running Mac OS 9.1

What’s next for these two old beasts? Well, I’m going to boot up the Ubuntu Live CD on the iBook, just to see if 8.04 is more friendly to it than 7.10 was. If so, I’m going to install Edubuntu and make it the kids’ new computer. If not, well at least it’s got a stable OS now, and I’ll still make it the kids’ new computer. I can probably round up some pre-OS X kids’ software for them, and they can always use it to watch DVDs.

Meanwhile, the iMac is possibly going to turn into a local file/media/web server, or at least be another system for me to play around with Linux on. I do have Ubuntu 8.10 on my main MacBook, but having to reboot into it is usually more trouble than it’s worth.

Update, a few minutes later: I went for it with the Live CD on the iBook. Good news. After a few fretful minutes watching the display do some very weird things during the boot process, I stepped away to deal with some kid antics. I came back to the iBook to see this:

Ubuntu 8.04 running on a "toilet seat" iBook G3.

Real cupcakes that I would like less than the “Cupcake in Bloom”

I didn’t think it was possible, but I’ve discovered something even worse than the “Cupcake in Bloom” from 1-800-Flowers. I ranted about this a few weeks back, but in case you missed it and somehow haven’t seen ads for it plastered in every public space in your city, this is what it looks like:


Pretty bad. And for everyone I’ve talked to about it, the consensus is that we’d all prefer a $1 real cupcake to a $25 bouquet made to look like flowers.

That’s how I felt, for sure. Until tonight at Target, when I saw this:

They're cupcakes! They only LOOK like dogs! Isn't that cute and/or clever?

I stand corrected. And this is now the second time I’ve surreptitiously taken a photo with my iPhone inside the same Target store for use on this website. I wonder how long it’ll be before they have their stoner security guard start tailing me when I come in. Maybe I can buy him off with dog-shaped cupcakes.

It’s here!

In RainbowsMy Radiohead In Rainbows “discbox” set arrived today, and it’s quite a sight.

There’s a heavy cardboard slipcover over the box/book package. Inside, an inner pocket holds a 12-inch square glossy booklet of abstract artwork. The right side consists of an attached 12×6 booklet containing more art and the lyrics along with the two CDs (the album proper on the first, 8 bonus tracks plus a couple of folders full of more digital artwork and photography from the recording sessions on the second). And lastly, slits on each side (in traditional LP gatefold sleeve fashion) contain the two heavyweight 12-inch 45 RPM vinyl records with the album’s 10 tracks.

I haven’t had a chance to listen to any of the new material yet (although I’ve already enjoyed the main album via download for the past couple of months), but already I am incredibly impressed with the quality of the presentation. The product itself is a work of art.

Rolling Stone on “the death of high fidelity”

Hearing protection requiredI’m certainly no audiophile: although I can tell the difference in quality, the fact is I’m too cheap to pay for high-end equipment, and I know I’ll rarely have the time to immerse myself in the kind of sensory isolation necessary to really appreciate it anyway.

That said, I still want things to sound good, and I notice when they don’t. I’ve observed with frustration the ever-shrinking dynamic range on CDs over the last decade, as the mastering process has been refocused on the singular goal of making everything absolutely as LOUD as possible.

Rolling Stone has recently published an interesting article on the phenomenon. Hopefully this bit of negative publicity will mark the turning point where we return to quality.

But I think blaming MP3 compression (as the article does, at least in part) is misguided; the problem predates the iPod and seems only tangentially related to the MP3 phenomenon. Although MP3 does drop certain details at the dynamic and frequency extremes, higher-quality MP3s sound indistinguishable from the uncompressed original versions on all but the highest-end equipment. And the loss of quality that comes with MP3 compression — data compression — has absolutely nothing to do with the dynamic compression being applied during the mastering process. The former removes data that will likely not be missed; the latter actually changes the relative loudness of different parts of the recording, making everything sound more homogeneous.

A good example of dynamic compression gone horribly wrong is in the new remixed versions of classic Genesis albums, released in 2007. (Of these, I currently own Duke and A Trick of the Tail. While I’ve got mixed feelings about the new stereo mixes — or more specifically, the masters of those stereo mixes — these CD/DVD sets are worthwhile for the rare archival concert footage alone.)

While overall I find these recordings to be a fascinating reinvention of the originals — with fine details originally lost in murky analog mixes suddenly brought back to life with bristling vividness — they also suffer to an almost incomprehensible degree from the current trend in excessively loud dynamic compression, particularly in sections of the music where the band is rocking out in full. The more delicate passages in the music sound wonderful and are a joy to discover, but the louder sections are compressed to such a degree that I can hardly pay attention to anything else.

Part of the problem may reside in my listening to the stereo mixes; these albums were remixed primarily for the purpose of creating 5.1 surround versions. Since I don’t have the equipment to listen to the 5.1 mixes, I have no idea what they might sound like, but I’ve been told that surround mixes rarely suffer from the mastering compression flaws that so severely plague the CD market today. Presumably that’s because the record labels don’t care about slapping the listener upside the head with the music in the surround mixes, whereas that’s apparently their primary objective with stereo CDs. Either that, or this is part of a long-term strategy to convince the public that stereo CD technology is woefully inadequate compared to 5.1 surround (which is true, but not to such a large degree), in order to get us all to invest in new audio equipment.