Sunday, October 29, 2006

Gapless Playback in iTunes 7

Having used iTunes 7 for several weeks now, I'd have to say the worst thing about it (for me) is the whole "gapless playback" idea. On the surface, it seems fine. iTunes analyzes all the songs and figures out which ones don't need any silence between then when they're played consecutively. The gaps have always bugged me on, for example, Pink Floyd's "The Wall" where one song trails off into a bunch of sound effects and dialog, which then segues straight into the next song. But consider:

  • iTunes 7 tries to analyze every song in the library the first time you run it. (That process is very slow, you might have to let it run all night and all the next day.)
  • If you interrupt the analysis, iTunes tries to run it again for your whole library the next time you import any music.
  • If you use the technique of removing the iTunes library data file, and re-importing a modified XML data file, iTunes does the analysis yet again! The "gapless / not gapless" setting isn't preserved in the XML file. I've used this technique several times recently while moving songs between hard drives, and the constant "analyzing songs for gapless playback" is driving me up the wall.
  • How often do you actually listen to an entire concept album with shuffle turned off? I'm much more likely to hear a song from "The Wall" as part of some playlist. For me, it would be more useful to have a way to join two songs into a single unit retroactively. You can join songs like this, but only when you rip them; neglect to plan ahead, and you have to go back to square one with that CD.

A Canticle from Leibowitz

The National Kidney Foundation hosted its annual Authors' Luncheon, with featured speaker Annie Leibowitz. (Actually, I was only vaguely aware that there were five other speakers, because all the buzz among the local camera club members was about Annie and her new book.)

I did learn a number of things -- some contradictory -- from the other authors. From flipping through the Annie Leibowitz book, I got some ideas about portraiture (always more to learn there) and black and white. Now digital cameras are still weak when it comes to dynamic range, making for less overall contrast in black-and-white shots. But my impression, which goes against the conventional wisdom, is that when taking a single exposure, it's better to underexpose a little rather than try to get the histogram concentrated in the brighter part of the range. The photos in he book seemed to bear this out (despite being shot on regular film rather than digital) -- the brightest parts were well short of being blown out, and some of the darker parts seemed solid black.

Stop Draggin' My Heartbreaker Around

Took in the last Tom Petty concert at the Greek Theater in Berkeley on Friday. I think this is the fourth time I've seen him in the Bay Area. (Once in full concert at the Shoreline, a couple of times at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit concerts.)

Stevie Nicks was a special guest who sang on a couple of songs, and sang backup on some others. Stevie can still hit the high notes.

This tour (for the album "Highway Companion") has been announced as the last from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Tickets were hard to come by. The first two shows at the Greek sold out pretty much before the box office opened -- we were first in line but couldn't get two seats together in reserved seating. Luckily, this third concert was added, several weeks later.

Interesting show. Good lighting. We had a great view of the sound guys and cameramen doing their thing. Each cameraman focused on one band member the whole concert, even when the lights were off them. I was jealous of one sound guy working 6 monitors at once.

Trivia time: The lead singer of The Dandy Warhols said the Greek Theater was designed by Bernard Maybeck, but it was actually designed by Julia Morgan. (Maybeck did some of the other buildings. Seems like every prominent American architect of the early 20th century had a hand in some of the UC Berkeley campus buildings.)

Separated at birth:

Guitarist, keyboardist, and singer Scott Thurston from The Heartbreakers. (He has less hair these days than in this picture.)

Canadian journalist and pundit Rex Murphy.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

New Sensation

I've always had a love/hate relationship with my tennis racquets. The good ones made playing a joy, the bad ones prompted endless frustration. Sometimes I played with free racquets from a sponsor, even if the model wasn't the best choice. Whenever I would switch to a new model, I'd always have a couple of excellent matches to start. Several times I had to borrow totally unfamiliar racquets due to broken strings or cracked frames with no spares on hand -- resulting either in total disaster (that would be the Canada Games), or inspiring heroics.

The last few years, during my latest comeback phase, I've played with a very light racquet. It has great control for dropping the ball neatly into corners, the better to run opponents into the ground. But I was a little annoyed at not having enough oomph on shots to sock clean winners against speedy opponents, or having to finesse passing shots. Volleys seemed to require too much swing.

It's interesting to look back at previous years, when I would try to adjust my game based on the characteristics of a racquet, or tweak my strokes based on the tension of the latest string job. I reached the point where I realized, if the ball is landing 6 inches out, I'm not going to change my swing, I'm going to get the strings cut out and re-done at a tension that works better with my natural game. In the same way, I'm not going to rework my serve or volleys, I'm going to experiment with racquets to find the one that works the best for my particular style.

Years ago, I bought racquets sight unseen or after a single trial where they seemed to work OK. This time, I did a more thorough compare-and-contrast. I took out 2 prospects and tried them alongside the current racquet. Then 2 totally different models. Then the best of each group for a side-by-side comparison. Each time, hitting buckets of balls to check how each one worked for different shots.

The one I settled on is the Babolat Z-OS. (Yes, a tennis racquet that could be confused with a mainframe operating system. :-) It does just the right amount of work on volleys and half-volleys. Spin serves curve down to hit the sidelines at sharp angles. Groundstrokes kick up high, topspin backhands stay in the court.

When I tried the new axe for the first time "in anger", I could feel it in the wrist the next day. If the racquet is hitting the ball with more power, the force isn't coming for free. But soon I could play on successive days without ill effects. I'm taking this season off in the local tennis league; things are looking good for next season.