Archive | May, 2004

Stupid Tech: PlusDeck2, PC-based Cassette Deck

Electronic Music 411 reviews the PlusDeck2, which is a cassette tape deck that plugs into a PC’s empty drive bay in order to digitize analog cassettes, and also spit PC audio back out to cassette. As someone who still owns hundreds of audio cassettes, I can see the value of having a device that makes it easy to digitize these tapes, but this thing is really just a poorly-conceived solution in search of a problem.

First off, the design of this deck looks like an el-cheapo car cassette stereo since it uses a slot-in type mechanism, for obvious space-saving reasons. There’s a reason why you don’t see this type of mechanism on home cassette decks (or even boomboxes) — that’s because it’s unreliable and much more prone to breakage, than the typical door-type mechanism.

On top of that, I see no provision for specifying or detecting the type of tape — old-school tape users will recall that cassettes come in three different formulations, type I ferric oxide, type II chrome, and type IV metal. For best sound, a good deck needs to know what type of tape you’re using in order to adjust to its unique characteristics.

There’s also no provision for decoding Dolby noise reduction, which has been standard for prerecorded cassettes since the early 1980s, and which most home cassette decks have supported since that time, as well. While you can play a Dolby-encoded cassette on a deck that doesn’t have decoding, that does affect the quality of playback.

In theory, you could do Dolby decoding in software, but there’s no indication that such capability in included with the PlusDeck.

Unfortuately the Electronic Music 411 review barely addresses the sound quality of this deck, and doesn’t make any mention of the tape-type or Dolby issues. I get the sense that the reviewer is operating under the expectation that cassettes are inherently low quality, and so is simply tolerating hiss, noise and any number of tonal aberrations.

However, anyone over the age of 30 with any amount of experience in recording music should know that very high quality audio can be obtained with cassettes, although it often requires a bit of tweaking. From the 1970s into the 90s, a fair amount of high quality cassette equipment was available. However, I’d bet the majority of people used pretty low quality equipment, like boomboxes and all-in-one integrated stereos, where the cassette deck was often substandard, which perpetuated the cassette as inherently lo-fi myth.

But the most stupid aspect of this product is the fact that it’s simple as hell to attach a cassette deck to your PC’s sound input — all you need is a $3 cable from Radio Shack. I argue that this is much easier for most users than cracking open the case to install the PlusDeck in an empty drive bay, installing the PCI card, and then installing the drivers and software (which, apparently, isn’t completely in English). …

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Rebel Video: Free Radio Austin and TV Piquetera

Demand Media is a community video portal where folks can submit links to independently produced video available on the ‘net, especially videos with an underground, radical bent.

A pointer to a documentary of the Free Radio Austin bust, which happened back in 2000, was just posted (the video resides at Indybay).

I saw the raw video that FRA volunteers shot when I attended the Reclaim the Media conference in Sept. 2002. Readying themselves for FCC action, FRA volunteers had encased the station’s transmitter in a weatherproof container and buried several feet deep behind the station. When the FCC came to shut them down, the DJ on air called for listeners to come and observe, and so on the video you get to watch a gathering of angry listeners jeer the FCC agents as they roll up their sleeves and dig up the transmitter.

My pal John Anderson from conducted an interview with FRA volunteer Reckless at Reclaim the Media, which aired on the Sept. 20, 2002 edition of the radioshow (and is available for download).

Another very cool video is a documentary on TV Piquetera, which is a mobile Argentinian TV station run by and for the Piquetera movement of the poor and unemployed that played a key role in toppling the Argentine government after the fiscal collapse, and has since enabled workers to take over abandoned factories and businesses, turning them into worker-run collectives.

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Friday’s Radioshow On-Line: Interview with Skidmark Bob and V-Man from Freak Radio Santa Cruz

Last Friday’s radioshow was a lot of fun. First, because Bob and V-Man are articulate, true independent media die-hards and both of them do some great radio on FRSC. Second, because it was the mediageek radioshow’s first joint simulcast — Bob and V-Man were in the studio at Freak Radio broadcasting their end of the phone feed while we broadcasted on our end at the WEFT studio. They stayed on the line for the rest of the show, past the interview, including some news about a bunch of FCC micropower busts that happened about the same time that Freak Radio was visited, but not busted, by the FCC.

The program is now on-line for downloading and listening, in mp3 and ogg voribs.

Check out archives of Skidmark Bob’s and V-Man’s programs at Radio4All. At each page select “View all programs in this series” from the pulldown at the top of the page and click “View” to see all the episodes you can download.

pOP dEFECT Radio is the soundtrack of the resistance, featuring Skidmark Bob’s mix of timely music and collage that hits hard and funny.

Rockin’ the Boat is V-Man’s interview and news program that demonstrates you don’t need a big (corporate underwriting supported) budget and a team of unpaid interns to create incisive topical programming.

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Back and Blogging

I was away for a week in Toronto, which is a very cool town, and while I was gone the sysadmin for the mediageek’s server upgraded perl and other things, which kind of broke Moveable Type in interesting ways for a few days more — hence the lack of postings.

Thanks to very responsive help from said sysadmin and another IMC tech guru we’re back in action. The server that runs the mediageek site is a community webhosting project of the Urbana-Champaign IMC, which means that it runs on a combination of volunteer and paid time. The uptime on the server is great, the cost is reasonable, so these minor hiccups aren’t much of bother, especially considering how quickly our techs patch things up.

Back to Toronto — I did nothing remotely mediageeklike during my visit, just relaxed and wandered the city, enjoying the pleasant, multicultural atmosphere and lots of great, cheap food. I got to listen a bunch to community radio station CKLN, which has a nice mix of news, public affairs and music programming. I was impressed at the knowledge of some of the music hosts, and how they integrated interviews with various local and touring artists. Basically, I kept the radio in our rented apt. tuned to CKLN for the whole five days and was never disappointed.

There’s tons of graffiti, street art and murals all over Toronto, which helps to counteract the rampant commercial advertising and billboards. I don’t know why I didn’t take any pictures of all the vibrant grassroots expression.

Like I mentioned, I didn’t set out to do any mediageek stuff, so I didn’t make any contact with grassroots media makers, activists or and IMCistas. But just the vibe of the city seemed to be very welcoming for such activity. The chief impediment to these things is probably spreading gentrification and overall high rents in Toronto.

My last day in town I went to the Uprising radical bookstore in Kensington Market, which was just blocks from where we stayed. It’s a small store in a small one-room space, but has a nice selection of periodicals, radical pamphlets, zines and books. Also, they have a a few racks of $1 and $2 books (that’s .$73 to $1.46 in US dollars — I did enjoy the exchange rate), all of which are much more radical than the usual bargain book rack fare. And I really did appreciate the rack of pamphlets, since I think this is an often overlooked form, and a great way of spreading ideas in a short, easily digestible and cheap (or free) medium.

Toronto is definitely on the short list of places I’d readily be willing to move to.

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Practical Midwest Anarchism

Chuck0 took a trip up to last weekend’s Anarchist Bookfair in Madison, WI and posted a nice reportback on his blog. Chuck was there to table with the new issue of Practical Anarchy. I’m looking foward to getting myself a copy.

I would’ve like to have gone to the Bookfair and really have no good excuse for not going, except not being organized enough or thinking about it before the weekend was upon me. I’d really like to see an Anarchist bookfair happen here in Champaign-Urbana, but I think I would need to be involved in making it happen.

Our IMC is hoping to buy a new building sometime in the next 12 months or so, I think waiting until we have a place (and we’re thinking it’ll be a pretty big one) would be wise.

One of the projects I’d like to pursue when the U-C IMC gets a new home is to have a collectively run bookstore and music shop. The IMC has sold a small selection of indie music, books and zines on consignment since opening up, but because the IMC itself has sporadic hours and has less foot traffic since being forced to quit holding shows last year, there hasn’t been much interest. On top of that, there isn’t much space, either.

Having a bigger space where we might be able to dedicate a whole room to a book and music store (and also be able to lock it and have better inventory control) seems more workable to me. On top of that, Champaign-Urbana has lost almost all of its independent sellers of new music and books, which I constantly hear people lamenting about.

Of course, the reason I always hear about the failure of the independents is the high cost of doing business, the impact of mp3 downloading and the resulting difficultly of making profit. Regardless of how valid these reasons are, that’s why I think a collectively run store housed at an IMC, which therefore will collectively share rent, is a potentially more sustainable model.

The audio geek in me would also like to see the store sell refurbished stereo gear, especially turntables, so that indie music lovers don’t feel like they have to go out to Best Buy to buy a cheap-ass made-in-China-by-slave-labor plastic stereo to listen to their tunes. Especially since decent new turntables are hard to find for less than a couple of hundred dollars, having some nicely refurbed older but working TTs available for maybe $25 – $50 would be good for everyone.

One of my inspirations for this idea is the collectively run Q is for Choir record store in Portland, OR. They have lots of great vinyl, especially punk and other underground music, and they sell refurbed turntables. I’ve only been there once last Fall, so I don’t know how long they’ve been around, or how well they’re surviving. But if I can get a motivated collective together here in C-U when the IMC gets its new home, I’ll definitely have to check in with them.

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