Kate Bush fears the death of the album as an art form

In an interview on the BBC Today programme singer Kate Bush expresses her fears for the music industry:

… a lot of people in the industry are very depressed because record sales are very low, I think a lot of us fear the death of the album as an art form. And I love albums, I understand that people just want to listen to a track and put it on their iPod, and that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, but why can’t that exist hand in hand with an album, they’re such different experiences? I mean a selection of songs, not just a song or a track. It’s just a completely different experience. I suppose the worst case scenario is that people would actually get to a point where they can’t afford to make what they want to make creatively. The industry is collapsing.

Is she right? When technology advances, not everything gets better. Music used to be expensive to distribute, now it can be done for almost nothing. There is not really any scarcity, and without scarcity, goods cannot command a price. Scarcity has to be imposed artificially, via DRM (Digital Rights Management), or trust basis, or inspecting data traffic.

There is still some money in digital music sales, of course, and still some money in CDs and other media too. The physical package is under obvious threat though, and good things will be lost: the cover artwork (which never fully recovered from the decline of the 12” LP record), the thrill of breaking the shrink-wrap on your new acquisition, and more crudely, the income this generated for the industry (though in most cases not so much for the artist).

That is the negative view though. The positive is that music has never been more available than it is today, and the barriers to a musician wanting to be heard have never been lower. Digital also enables new kinds of art, maybe multimedia packages, or releases where the user can create their own mixes, or interactive products which combine music with online experiences and interaction. The Who’s new Quadrophenia deluxe box is disappointing in terms of content, but its Q:Cloud site, which is unlocked by possession of the CD, has an amazing collection of material that goes beyond what would ever be printed and packed into a box. 


What is the best programming language for a child progressing from Scratch?

Someone asked me what is the best programming language for a child to learn after starting (and having success) with Scratch.

Scratch is a visual programming language which actually runs on Smalltalk, though its users do not need to know this. Scratch 2.0 seems to be written in Adobe Flash so you can create and program projects in a web browser. As far as I can tell though, there is no obvious and natural progression from Scratch to a code-centric programming language.

I guess the first answer is not to move away from Scratch until you need to. You can do a lot with Scratch, as the many shared projects demonstrate.

Still, I agree that it makes sense to learn text-based programming before too long. What is the best one for a child to learn, not necessarily with computer science or a professional career in mind, but just to take the next step and create some cool games and applications?

I find myself leaning towards Microsoft’s C#. The reason is that there is a capable free version and  you can add XNA Game Studio for game development. C# is an excellent language and has some family resemblance to other languages including C, C++, Java and JavaScript, and Visual Studio is a strong IDE that is perhaps more approachable than say Eclipse or Netbeans.

Snags with C# are that Visual Studio only runs on Windows, the language is proprietary to Microsoft (though Mono is free and open source) and it is not ideal if you want to run on the Mac, or Google Android or Apple iPad.

That said, I could also make a case for Java, or JavaScript, or Python.

I would value suggestions though: what would you recommend to a teenager?

Windows 8 Tablet in June 2012? If so, I am betting ARM not Intel x86

An interview with Paul Amsellem, new boss at Nokia France, includes this remark:

Et en juin 2012, nous aurons une tablette fonctionnant sous Windows 8

which even my schoolboy French can translate:

and in June 2012 we will have a tablet running Windows 8

Now, that is sooner than I had expected based on what we saw at the BUILD conference in September, and on past experience of Windows beta cycles. Windows 7, for example, was previewed in October 2008 and went into public beta in January 2009. A release candidate arrived in May 2009, and the gold release (the first production release) was towards the end of July 2009.

Although that does not sound much different from September 2011 to June 2012, bear in mind that the gold release is the moment when PC manufacturers can test their hardware with the production code. They still have to manufacture, package and distribute the machines, which is why the first machines with Windows 7 pre-installed did not arrive until October 2009. Hence the “general availability” date for Windows 7 of October 22 – three months after the gold release.

In order to achieve a June release for Windows 8 then, you would expect Microsoft to be done by March 2011. We have yet to see the first beta (the BUILD version is a preview) and a gold release for the x86 Windows 8 in March seems to me most unlikely. Of course it could be done, but only by compromising quality. The quality of the Windows 7 first release was excellent, and Microsoft is smart enough not to jeopardise its Windows 8 launch with a sub-standard product.

Is the Nokia man then either mis-informed or mis-quoted? Either is possible; but I also wonder whether Windows 8 on ARM will play by different rules. Microsoft said little about the ARM release at BUILD, though it was on show in the exhibition.

My impression is that the ARM release will be locked-down and that the only way to install apps will be via the app store. It will also be designed for specific hardware, unlike Windows x86 where people may grab an install CD and set it up on any old PC they can find; it is not guaranteed to work, but often it does.

That means Microsoft has much less to do in terms of compatibility testing, both for hardware and applications.

It follows that, despite being a new platform for Windows, the ARM release might actually be quicker to build than the x86 release. I can just about believe that Microsoft could be ready to hand over a gold build to Nokia in March 2012.

If that is the case, then the big risk is that apps will be scarce. It would give developers little time to create apps for the new platform, and it would also be interesting to see if the Office team at Microsoft could deliver something of real value by then.

Microsoft is under intense pressure from Apple’s iPad as well as Android competitors in tablets. Although it will want to get to market quickly, the company must also realise than a botched first release makes recovery hard. This will be interesting to watch.

Hassles with Intel RAID – Rapid Storage Technology

I have recently fitted a new Intel DH67CL motherboard and decided to use the on-board RAID controller to achieve resiliency against drive failure. I have four 1TB Sata drives, and chose to create two separate mirrors. This is not the most efficient form of RAID, but mirroring is the simplest and easiest for recovery, since if one drive fails you still have a complete copy ready to go on its mirror.

I thought this would be a smooth operation, especially since I have two pairs of identical drives. Everything was fine at first, but then I started to get system freezes. “Freeze” is not quite the right word; it was more an extreme slowdown. The mouse still moved but the Windows 7 64-bit GUI was unresponsive. I discovered that it was possible eventually to get a clean though time-consuming shutdown by summoning a command prompt and waiting patiently for it to appear, then typing shutdown /s. After reboot, everything was fine until next time, where next time was typically only a few hours.

I was suspicious of the RAM at first and removed 8GB of my 16GB. Then I discovered that others had reported problems with Intel RAID (also known as RST) when you have two separate arrays enabled. The symptoms sounded similar to mine:

When the second RAID array is enabled (tried both RAID1 and 0), Windows (Win 7 Ultimate 64bit) will freeze after 10+ minutes of use. This initially manifests itself as my internet “going out”. While I can open new tabs in the browser, I cannot connect. I can’t ping via CMD either. I can’t open Task Manager, but I can open Event Viewer (and nothing really is shown in there re: this). If I try to Log Off or Restart the PC via Start Menu, Windows hangs on the “Logging Off” or “Shutting Down” screen for at least 10 minutes, up to several hours (or indefinitely).

There is no solution given in the thread other than to remove one of the arrays.

The system is 100% stable when I remove the second RAID1.

says one user.

I broke both of the mirrors and used the system for a while; everything was fine. I found an updated driver on Intel’s site (version, dated 17th October 2011) and decided to re-try the RAID. Now I had another problem though. Note that I was using the Windows management utility, not the embedded utility which you get to by pressing a special key during boot, since it is only with the Windows utility that you can preserve your data when creating a new array. My problem: I could not recreate the arrays.

Problem number one was that the drive on Sata port 0 disappeared when you tried to create an array. All four drives looked fine in the Status view:


but when you went to create an array, only three drives appeared:


Following a tip from the Intel community discussion board, I removed and reinstalled the RST utility, following which I also had to reinstate the updated driver. Now the drive reappeared, but I still could not recreate the arrays. I could start creating one, but got an “unknown error.” Looking in the event log, I could see errors reported by IAStorDataMgrSvc: FailedToClaimDisks and FailedVolumeSizeCheck. Curious, especially as I had used this very same utility to create the arrays before, with the same drives and without any issues.

Just as an experiment, I booted into Windows XP 64-bit, which I still have available using Windows multiboot. I installed the latest version of the Intel storage driver and utility, and tried to create a mirror. It worked instantly. I created the second mirror. That worked instantly too. Then I booted back into Windows 7 and checked out the RST utility. Everything looks fine.


The further good news is that I have been running with this for a few days now, without any freezes.

Is it possible that the latest driver fixed a problem? There is no way of knowing, especially since Intel itself appears not to participate in these “community” discussions. I find that disappointing; community without vendor participation is never really satisfactory.

Postscript: Note that I am aware that Intel’s embedded RAID is not a true RAID controller; it is sometimes called “fakeraid” since the processing is done by the CPU. Using Intel RST is a convenience and cost-saving measure. An alternative is Windows RAID which works well in my experience, though there are two disadvantages:

1. Intel RAID performs slightly better in my tests.

2. Windows RAID requires converting your drives to Dynamic Disks. Not a big problem, but it is one more thing to overcome if you end up doing disaster recovery.

AVI announces ADM40 active floorstanding loudspeakers

The British hifi company AVI, based in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, has announced the ADM40 active floorstanding loudspeakers, promising that “Everything is new, different and improved” versus the successful ADM9 and ADM9T, reviewed here.


Here is what we know about the ADM 40 (the hole in the above picture, by the way, will hold a status display). All subject to change, these are informal announcements on a forum:

  • Measure 90 x 21 x 30 HWD.
  • Three-way speaker system.
  • Two analogue inputs and four optical digital.
  • Stereo outputs for an optional sub-woofer. Without sub they are “-6dB at 45Hz”.
  • Remote with on/off and filter selection.
  • £3000 with Cherry or Walnut finish. Rosewood, Piano White or Black Lacquer £3750 delivered to the UK.

This price makes them more than two and half times more expensive than the ADM 9T. The challenge for AVI has been to make speakers that can reasonably be described as “full range” and which improve on what the smaller 9T already delivers. Three-way loudspeakers have theoretical advantages, because each drive handles a narrower range, but the design is more complex thanks to the crossover (of course this requires three amplifiers in an active system) and potential interactions between the different drives. Add a sub-woofer into the mix and the complexity increases. Large loudspeakers are hard to do well, but of course well worth it when successful.

Adobe’s Falcon JS: Compile Flex code to HTML and Javascript

Adobe has issued further information about its intention to donate the Flex SDK, which builds Flash applications from XML and ActionScript, to the Apache Software Foundation. Specifically, the donation will include:

  • BlazeDS, the free version of LiveCycle Data Services
  • Falcon, the new Flex compiler due to be completed in 2012
  • Falcon JS, a previously unannounced project

Of these, Falcon JS is the most eye-catching. This is an “experimental cross-compiler from MXML and ActionScript to HTML and JavaScript.” In other words, Falcon JS has the potential to give developers a migration path from Flash to HTML clients. Note that it is described as a cross-compiler rather than a porting tool, so it may well be that the output is not easily edited. The Google Web Toolkit works like this, converting Java to JavaScript but not in a form that anyone is expected to edit. Adobe also adds:

We have undertaken some experimental work in this area, but remain unsure as to the viability of fully translating Flex-based content to HTML. The Falcon JS cross-compiler, referenced above, represents this early work.

What about the most sensitive of Adobe’s statements, that HTML is the long-term solution for enterprise applications? Adobe says:

In time (and depending upon your application, it could be 3-5 years from now), we believe HTML5 could support the majority of use cases where Flex is used today.

and adds:

We intend to make investments in HTML-related technologies, so that we can help advance HTML5 to make it suitable for enterprise applications.

I am not sure to what extent the new statement will ease the worries of Flex developers; but at least Adobe is clear about its intentions. While there are benefits in the Flex SDK moving to Apache, overall the message is that Adobe is hastening towards HTML 5. I am surprised, considering the progress the company has made in creating a strong cross-platform toolkit for mobile and desktop applications. Although no-one should doubt that Adobe will continue to support and evolve Flex as a development platform, it has in effect declared it to be a legacy technology, and I would guess that the effect will be to depress the level of activity there.

Squeezebox server gets DLNA support: play FLAC on iPad

Logitech has released an update to its Squeezebox server, now called Logitech Media Server (LMS), and now at version 7.7.


One of its new features is DLNA support. DLNA is a standard for serving and playing media across devices. Note though that although LMS is now a DLNA server, it does not transcode, so if for example you store music in FLAC format, a Sony PlayStation 3 will not be able to play it. Many other DLNA servers do support transcoding, so for example Illustrate’s Asset UPnP will stream FLAC as MP3 so that a PS3 will play it correctly.

This is still an interesting new feature for LMS, particularly as you can store images and videos as well as music.

One thing I have been gently investigating for some time is the best way to get a Squeezebox FLAC library playing on an Apple iPad or iPhone. I have had success with Asset UPnP but only with transcoding. After installing LMS 7.7 I tried the 8player lite DLNA client and was pleased with the results.


I selected the Logitech Media Server and was soon enjoying music through the remarkable-considering-the-size iPad speaker:


8player lite has a working free version or you can purchase for a modest price and get full features. There are some other DLNA clients you can try, but they do not all support FLAC. SmartStor Fusion works well with Asset PnP.

PCs down, Android up: astonishing figures from Gartner show shift to mobile

Want to know why Apple is suing Samsung over Android, or why Microsoft is re-imagining Windows as a touch-friendly mobile OS? Look no further than Gartner’s latest report on European and worldwide sales in the third quarter of 2011.

First, this release shows PC sales in Western Europe, not helped by HP’s dithering over what to do with its PC division. Total shipments declined by 11.4%. Apple increased its unit share by 19.6% to 7.6%, which would be greater when measured by value since its computers command the highest prices, but still small relative to the entire desktop and notebook market. Netbook sales declined by 40%, presumably because people are buying Apple iPads instead. “Media tablets” including the iPad are not included in these figures.

Next, take a look at worldwide sales of mobile devices. Units are up 5.6% year on year, to over 4.4m devices in the latest quarter.

Then at the operating system breakdown for smartphones (115m devices). The operating system in features phones does not much matter. Android grabbed an amazing 52% of sales (from 25% a year earlier), versus Apple’s 15%. Gartner thinks Apple’s decline is a blip cause by customers waiting for iPhone 4S, but this is still an extraordinary result for Android. Symbian is down from 36.3% to 16.9% (the “burning platform”); RIM is down from 15.4% to 11%; Microsoft is down from 2.7% to 1.5% – is that burning any less?

It would be remarkable if Microsoft’ share does not increase at least a little in the fourth quarter, with the launch of Nokia’s Lumia and much more promotional activity, but on these figures it needs a miracle.

Adobe favours HTML over Flex, retreats from its enterprise app platform

Adobe has stated that Flex, the xml-based language for developing applications that run on the Flash runtime (also known as AIR) will gradually give way to HTML 5:

In the long-term, we believe HTML5 will be the best technology for enterprise application development. We also know that, currently, Flex has clear benefits for large-scale client projects typically associated with desktop application profiles.

The company is also giving the Flex SDK to an open source foundation:

we are planning to contribute the Flex SDK to an open source foundation in the same way we contributed PhoneGap to the Apache Foundation when we acquired Nitobi.

though Adobe will continue to contribute to its development. Adobe also states that it will continue to develop the Flash Builder IDE for Flex.

I am surprised by this announcement. I understand Adobe’s reasons for abandoning Flash for mobile devices, but since you can use Flex with the packager for iOS or the captive runtime for other mobile devices, it is not necessary to abandon Flex as well.

But is Adobe abandoning Flex? Not as such; in fact the statement linked above says that Adobe is still “committed to Flex” and “committed to Flash Builder”. The problem though is that there are several clues showing that Flex is in decline and no longer strategic.

First there is the statement about HTML5 versus Flex in the long-term.

Second, Adobe says it is not sure what is happening to the Flex roadmap as discussed recently at the MAX conference in Los Angeles:

The Flex roadmap will be determined by the governing board once it’s been established. We plan to contribute framework features previously highlighted as part of Adobe’s Flex roadmap, into this new project.

Third, the delivery of a project to an open source foundation can be interpreted as a signal that a company wants  to distance itself and lacks commitment to its long-term success. I would not make that argument with respect to PhoneGap, but for Flex I am not so sure.

It may already be too late. Imagine you are an Adobe partner trying to sell a Flex project to your customer. What answer do you have when your customer says, “but isn’t Adobe moving to HTML 5?”

When Adobe made its first announcement about the change in its business model I came up with the phrase more publishing, less programming. That view was further strengthened by CEO Shantanu Narayen’s recent post:

The future of the Internet comes down to content – creating it and monetizing it. This is where our customers rely on Adobe, and it’s what is shaping our strategy moving forward.

I take this then as not only a retreat from Flex, but a retreat from enterprise application development in favour of content creation tools.

Charles Humble at InfoQ has an informative post on this issue here.

Review: Quadrophenia director’s cut

This might be my favourite album ever.

It connects somehow, the frustration of My g-g-g-generation extended to an entire double album, played with the frenetic energy and genius of The Who, and intermingled with a dash of Pete Townshend’s mystical leanings. I am the sea.

It is not only the music, the whole package was perfect when it arrived in autumn 1973. The black and white cover with the scooter and the four faces of the band reflected in its mirrors, and a breathtakingly good series of monochrome photographs. If any record deserves a deluxe edition, this one does.


And here it is – or is it? What we have is something half-way between the sumptuous, informative, historic collector’s edition which the album merits, and the kind of money grabbing release you get when some record company notices how much people are paying for boxed sets these days and says, “Quick, let’s get Quadrophenia out before the CD market disappears completely”.

Because there is a lot wrong with this release.

Still, time to stop rambling and tell you what you get. Within a very solid slipcase you will find a poster advertising the original double album (actually this is a fine reproduction and one of the better things here), a colour envelope holding various bits of memorabilia: reproductions of some of Townshend’s draft lyrics, a rather darkly reproduced colour photo of Jimmy (the central character) on a scooter, and a 7-inch single of 5.15 backed with the slightly rare track Water.

Then there is the main event: a 100-page hardback book of photos and an essay by Townshend, within which nestle the original double CD, a DVD with 8 tracks remixed for 5.1 surround sound, and two CDs of Townshend’s demos for the album.

The book is certainly nice to have, though bear in mind that the original album came with a 46 page insert which is all included in the book, so that accounts for nearly a quarter of it. I am also upset to report that the quality of those wonderful photographs is poor; I was really hoping that I would get better copies than those in my falling-apart LP but in fact these are noticeably worse; they have that grainy look you get when photos are reprinted from a print rather than from the originals.

Still, the *other* photos in the book are nicely reproduced and the essay is fascinating if you love Quadrophenia half as much as I do. Townshend recounts how he came up with the story that is printed in the front cover of the LP (and also here), when remembering how he slept under Brighton pier once “after a riotous night at the Aquarium ballroom.” He also describes how the album came together, how it was recorded, and adds notes on the songs and demos.

If you are a fan, you will definitely want to hear the demos too. They form a sort-of alternate version of the album, lacking the Who’s energy but with its own appeal. There are also songs here that are not on the album, and others that did not show up until the soundtrack of the Quadrophenia film. Some of the songs have overdubs which I personally would rather had been omitted.

The 5.1 mix is enjoyable too. This album is ideal for surround sound, especially at those moments when sea noises swirl around.

It’s curious though that only 8 tracks have been mixed to 5.1. Why? But the rest of 5.1 Quadrophenia is not the only thing missing.

The important thing to realise is that this is Townshend’s deluxe box, rather than The Who’s deluxe box. I have not spotted any contribution to the package from Roger Daltrey, despite his massive contribution to the quality of the album, nor even any attempt to collect existing quotes from the two members of the band who are no longer with us, Keith Moon and John Entwistle. There are no outtakes from band sessions, nor are there any live tracks from when Quadrophenia was performed live back in the day; yes I realise that the concerts at the time had some problems but I would still love to hear how they sounded.

Quadrophenia was remixed in 1996 and it is the remix that is offered here (it sounds the same as before), but for completeness I would have liked both mixes to be included, in line with what has been done in deluxe boxes for other classic albums such as Jethro Tull’s Aqualung and King Crimson’s In the Court of. To my mind the original mix is still important, the Quadrophenia that is as I first heard it in the seventies.

So this is a frustrating production, much less than it should be; but then again frustration is what Quadrophenia is all about so that is curiously fitting.

Fans will still want this package, hard though it is to justify the cost – especially when you consider that 11 of the 25 demos are also on the Deluxe 2-CD set at one sixth of the price, and that even more memorabilia is also available online at the new Q-Cloud site, accessible to anyone who has purchased or ripped the CD.


And I suppose when and if the full 5.1 release is done eventually we will be asked to pay again.