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Jan. 22nd, 2007


Lately I been so confused, I really don't know what to do

On Friday, while I was on my way home from work, I heard one of those "Oh-my-god-I-totally-remember-that-song!" songs: "What Do All The People Know," by 80s one-hit wonders The Monroes. You'd remember the song if you heard it, and the lyrics might ring a bell as well. It's a tasty little bit of New Wave goodness, with jangly guitars and Outfield-like vocal harmonies. Very cool old song.

Anyway, I heard the last forty-five seconds of it. Just enough to remember exactly how the rest of it goes and get it stuck in my head, which it has been, off and on, all weekend. I got home, rushed upstairs, and fired up iTunes, ready and willing to drop 99 cents on this yummy little piece of rock candy.

But it wasn't there. I Googled it, and found out that the record label went out of business shortly after the song was released, and that the only place it has been available for the past twenty-five years was on an 80s compilation CD, which is now out of print and selling for $15. Screw that.

So here we have a piece of pop music from three decades ago, which I can remember almost in its entirety. The band has broken up, the record label is gone, and the song is unavailable through "legitimate" channels. There is no way for me to "legally" acquire this song without spending an arm and a leg on it. And if I did go the Amazon/eBay route and spring for that compilation CD, neither the former band members nor the defunct record label will be helped by it.

But it is still technically copyrighted, and that copyright is (I imagine) now owned by Rhino or whoever put out the compilation. They are "sitting" on the song. There is no reason for it to be unavailable except that they have decided to make it so.

Now, under the original terms of copyright, the way they were meant to be, the song would have become public domain in 1996 (fourteen years after publication) or, if the band members renewed it, in 2010 (after the one-time fourteen-year extension expired). Thanks to Sonny Bono and Walt Dinsey (both of whom are dead and hence no longer care about copyright), it won't enter the public domain until 2077, at which point it is no longer pop music, but archaeology.

How, again, does this make any sense at all? Why, exactly, can't we just have that old song that's stuck in our heads, that nobody really "owns" anymore, but that we all remember, and think it would be cool to hear once in a while?

And if you're really concerned about "hurting the artists," why can't I send a buck to the guy who wrote the song and have him send me an mp3 and guitar tabs? How would that be hurting anyone?

I have never unlawfully downloaded a song, from Napster or the peer-to-peer networks or anything. But this is the first time I've been tempted to do so, because in this case it seems like the song should be freely available. If I were to succumb to that temptation, am I really hurting anyone? Am I really "stealing"?

The RIAA tells me so, but what does the RIAA know?

Jan. 11th, 2007


Them old software blues

So it's been a little over a year since I bought my first Macintosh, a base model Mac Mini with 512MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. And I'm quite happy with it, even though I'm a little disappionted that it was obsolete within months of buying it. But I know that with Apple, that's par for the course; about the time something gets to be affordable, it's about to be replaced with a newer, faster, shinier one. But I'm not unhappy with it; quite the contrary, OS X makes Windows XP look like a bad joke, and I never did willingly use MS Office or Internet Explorer. So I had no issues with the switch from that standpoint.

My little Mac is now quite happily running OpenOffice in X11, and the other cool open-source stuff I use (Inform, Firefox) runs natively. But there is one thing I don't have: an acceptable vector drawing application.

Instead, I have Adobe Illustrator.

To put it as bluntly and truthfully as I can, Illustrator is an overpriced, overly complicated, under-featured, bloated, slow, difficult-to-use piece of crap. It is the "industry standard" for graphic design for the same reason that Trabants were popular automobiles in East Germany: for a long time, there wasn't any other choice.

When I got into graphic design in 1997, Illustrator was already established as the standard, but there was an up-and-comer: CorelDraw. immediately it was dismissed as an "amateur" tool by the Mac-loving elitists of the graphic design community, primarily because it was Windows-only, and about one-fourth the price of Illustrator.

But being Windows-only and inexpensive meant it sold like hotcakes. And a huge community grew up around it, through sites like Altman.com (sadly now an email newsletter only, so I won't bother with a link), and the software just got better and better. Corel wowed us with innovations like the Mesh Fill (quickly copied and implemented badly by Adobe) and PowerClip (a mask tool on steroids; they still don't have anything close). Added a fully customizeable UI. Handed us tools we didn't even know we needed, which quickly became indispensable.

And sure, some of those tools got overused by middle-managers enamored with the Transformations tools in PowerPoint, and so Corel (unfairly) got the blame for some pretty hideous work. But some of us read Spider-Man when we were a kid, and knew that "with great power comes great responsibility," and therefore showed restraint with our new tools.

You can jump through an incredible number of hoops with this thing. HTML, PowerPoint, PDF, HPGL, Flash, AutoCAD, PostScript print files, vector or bitmap art; it handles it all natively. Import anything and export it as anything else, or save as a native CDR file and keep all the special effects live and editable with a simple click-and-drag. Do nearly every basic editing task without switching tools. File sizes are a fraction of AI or EPS files. Font and type handling make Adobe look backwards and silly. If you really know CorelDraw, you can do away with Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat, Quark, and whatever WYSIWYG webpage editor you use. You just don't need them anymore.

I still have, use, and love CorelDraw 9. The CorbinCrew.com splash page was created with it, in a matter of minutes. I could have done the same thing in Illustrator and Photoshop, but it would have taken me a whole lot longer, and a lot more screwing around.

I love my Mac. But I'm unwilling to part with CorelDraw. It's just too much better than anything else.

So I still have a Windows XP Beige Box under my desk, for that one application. When I first got the Mac, I bought a KVM switch to go between the two computers, but Windows doesn't seem to like it much. So I haven't been using it. I've just been using a spare keyboard and mouse and moving the monitor plug when I need to. It's a hassle, and I'm sick of it.

So I'm trying to figure out my options:

1. Try the KVM switch again. Maybe if I strip everything I possibly can out of Win XP, and only have Corel (and a couple other handy Windows-only things) on there, maybe it'll behave and not hang up when I switch. The problem is that it doesn't get rid of the Beige Box, its power consumption, or its tangle of wires.

2. Ditch Windows, run CorelDraw under WINE in Linux. If that doesn't work, I had some recent success with Linux on my ancient laptop, so I could probably get some cuddly distro (Ubuntu, probably) working nicely with the KVM and have access to Corel that way. But that still leaves me stuck with the Beige Box.

3. Remote Desktop Controller. The final solution involving the keeping of the Beige Box; allegedly, you can run Windows apps remotely on the Mac desktop. I downloaded it; we'll see if it works. It doesn't seem to want to connect here at work, but maybe I'll have better luck with my own hardware.

To get rid of the Beige Box altogether, there are a couple of other possibilities:

4. Use an emulator. Trouble is, that means either buying another copy of Win XP, or using the copy I have in some "unauthorized" way. It's really too bad that Darwine (an emulator that doesn't require Windows to run Windows programs) won't work with a PowerPC Mac. I tried an old version of Virtual PC and it didn't work at all. I downloaded Q (the open-source equivalent); maybe that will work better.

5. Learn how to modify Inkscape to act like CorelDraw. I installed Inkscape a while ago; it's an open-source SVG-based vector drawing tool. It kinda-sorta works like Corel, and allegedly you can modify the UI, so that might be a good substitute. But it doesn't have all the slick tools that make Corel so productive. It's an alternative to Illustrator, but I'm not sure it's all that much better.

6. Get an old copy of CorelDraw for Mac. Yes, it did exist for a couple years. And I could probably find it pretty cheap. But I have no idea how stable it is, or if the UI and tools are the same, or anything. I suppose it's worth a little research to find out, but it annoys me to have to pay for a piece of software I already own.

7. Give up and get on the Adobe bandwagon with everyone else. Yep. And a Chevy Aveo is better than a Mini Cooper because it has four doors. Reality TV is interesting entertainment. And Pat Buchanan isn't THAT much of a bigoted Bible-thumping piece of shit... Nope, can't do it. Sorry.

I don't mean to come across as a shill for Corel, or some kind of zealot. It's just annoying having to use substandard tools when you know a better one exists. And it's even moreannoying when you have the better tool, and just can't use it the way you want.

Dec. 11th, 2006


RIAA are greedy bastards, round 387

Okay, this is getting out of hand. Goddamn record labels are now claiming that because of the proliferation of mobile phone ringtones and the like, they need to LOWER royalty rates paid to songwriters:


They're not talking about the performers' royalties. Yes, the Blackeyed Peas get screwed over by the record labels, but who gets it even WORSE? The guy who writes their songs (sorry, pop music fans; most of the flavors of the week don't write their own stuff). The performers don't make squat off licensing deals like ringtones anyway. But the songwriters do, and the RIAA is now saying they make too much.

I have been thinking about what I wanted for a new ringtone for my phone for a while. I've decided instead to go back to a "standard" ring. Screw those greedy bastards. They get no free advertising from me.

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