My Guide to MP3 – Part 1

or A Podcast Primer for People Over Thirty

If you get frightened when you overhear conversations about iPods and MP3 and Podcasts you’re not alone. Portable music players have become so incredibly popular in such a short amount of time it’s easy to feel like we’ve been invaded.

But all is not lost, fellow Boomer. It is possible, even for the curmudgeonly, to understand and possibly enjoy the magic of tiny machines that store a huge amount of music. So shut off the turntable and set your cassettes aside for a moment and read on…

Killing Yourself to Live
Up until about twenty years ago most recorded noise involved mechanical devices to store the sound. Grooves on a record or patterns on a magnetic tape were the most common. The downside to these nostalgic music players is they all rely on physical contact. A needle follows a groove or tape is rolled past magnetic heads. Basically, to enjoy your music collection you must destroy it.

But suddenly the world went digital and now everything is stored as bits and bytes of data. That binary data (that means it’s really just zeros and ones) can still be stored on a magnetic tape, but unlike analog data it can also be stored on many other formats. The compact disk is the most common introduction most people had to digital music storage. And while the CD may appear similar to a vinyl record (they’re round and spin and sorta’ have grooves) the way they store and reproduce sound is very different. The music is bits and bytes on the surface and a laser reads that data using light. Presto… no more physical contact, no more worn out albums!

You might say the CD, by using light waves to read the music, was the first consumer music player that was “non- destructive.” So now we have a virtually indestructible format to play all our favorite tunes. What could possibly be better?

It Always Gets Better
Most portable music players have no moving parts. That’s one of the coolest things about this stuff. Shake it, throw it, bounce it all you want… nothing skips or jumps! If you’ve ever been jogging with a portable CD player you can probably appreciate this aspect.MP3s from Amazon.com
It’s Your Media

You’re probably set up to make MP3s (or the Microsoft equivalent) and didn’t even know it. If your Windows computer has a CD drive you’re ready to get started:

* Drop in your favorite music CD and open Windows Media Player (there’s a good chance that will happen automatically). If you need to open it manually look under Accessories | Entertainment.
* Now click on the File menu and select the item CDs and Devices. Click on “Rip Audio CD” to see a list of the songs. Tick the checkboxes beside the songs you want to convert and click Rip Music.
* Media Player will commence to compress and copy each selected track to you’re My Music folder. From there you can enjoy them from your computer (but without the disk, of course) or copy them to a portable player or e-mail them to a friend!

Notes (there are always notes):
The file created by default will be Windows Media Audio format or WMA.
Earlier versions of Windows Media Player have the menu labeled simply Copy From CD.

There’s another benefit of storing those bits and bytes in a digital format instead of bumps and waves required for the old analog stuff. Without going into way geeky stuff here’s the bottom line: digital audio can be copied or played over and over again without any loss of quality. Imagine the digital data starts out as 001011010110 and we copy it… it’s still 001011010110. So my first generation recording of Gruppo Sportivo’s Greatest Hits sounds exactly the same on my cousin’s twelfth generation dub. Now that might piss off a record company executive– but I call it revenge for all those worn out compact cassettes I bought in the Eighties!

But the best part of this revolution is the way digital information can be tweaked and tuned to cram more information into a smaller space. Just as computers have continued to outperform previous models, software engineers and programmers work on new ways to manage and store data. One way of storing audio and video data is a format known as MPEG.

MPEG is what geeks call a “codec” because it compresses and decompresses digital information. You may have seen video on your computer that was stored as an MPEG file. You’ve no doubt heard of MP3, which is simply the third variation of the MPEG codec. Guess they didn’t get it quite right the first time?

The prime directive for any codec is to squeeze a huge file as much as possible without screwing up the quality of the sound or image. Video on the Internet would not be possible without these codecs and the much smaller files they create. The MPEG codec is particularly good at this. In fact, it’s so good at it that MPEG-2 is used for the video on DVDs. It didn’t take long for some nerd to apply the same idea to the audio, and MPEG-3 was born.

“MP3, MP4… whatever it takes.”
Before anyone had heard of an MP3 player there were MP3 files. About 1995 someone noticed that a CD full of music required about 650 million bits of data to store. However, by compressing it with the MPEG-3 codec it suddenly became about 70 million bits and still sounded killer. “Killer!” someone exclaimed. So now instead of listening to a CD with only ten songs, we can burn a homemade CD that holds a hundred.

But burning CDs and changing disks is such a drag at parties. Plus you had to have a CD player that supported this new MP3 format or listen to them on a computer CD drive. Bummer, dude. Eventually these audio files (that’s code for copyrighted material) created using the MPEG-3 codec were shared with others (strictly for educational purposes I’m sure) over the Internet. That’s how that whole Napster thing happened, but that’s another story. More importantly….

This is where MP3 players come in.

To be continued

Lyra Wireless a Happy Surprise

How many times have you been burned by techie gadgets? I lost count a long time ago. Probably sometime around the 8 track-to-cassette adapter I hoped would make my AMC Hornet a cool ride.

So imagine my amazement when I bought a wireless music gadget that works great and is…
a) relatively inexpensive
b) easy to use
c) made by RCA

Yes, that last one is truly amazing. Despite a glorious history RCA has become better known for cheap stereos that fall apart. But their Lyra Wireless RD900W Transmitter/Receiver is a very cool thing. I was surfing around on Buy.com shopping for Wi-Fi hardware when I browsed over to their deals page. I’m not usually an impulse buyer- but this time I fell for it.

This rig involves two boxes and a remote that allows you to beam sound from your PC up to 100 feet to your stereo. It’s a 900mHz signal so the quality is better than the more common FM transponder thingy. It’s bundled with Musicmatch Jukebox, although you don’t have to use it to get MP3s from your workstation to your home thee-ah-tray.

It only took me about 15 minutes to hook it all up and start grooving. Playing a CD was no big deal so I tried something a little trickier- online radio from Live 365. I was impressed that Musicmatch had no complaints about playing the stream from Generation 80s (since they also have an online radio product I thought they might block it). Pretty soon I was downloading my faves from Emusic in the office and rocking out at full volume in the living room.

The universal remote it comes with is very nice and hefty. It allows you to launch tunes from afar. It also can control your TV, cable box, DVD, VCR and audio gear. I haven’t programmed it for all of our other equipment yet, but it appears to be compatible with jillions of electronics.

And the best part is it all costs less than $4o bucks!

RCA RD900W Lyra Wireless Transmitter/ Receiver
RCA RD900W Lyra Wireless

Now you can listen to all your PC based MP3’s and Internet Audio from the comfort of your living room. The new RCA Lyra Wireless transmitter and receiver send crystal clear digital audio from your PC to your stereo. Included is a Universal Remote Control so you can surf your collection from the other room. The RCA Lyra Wireless is the simply best way to listen to your digital music selection away from your PC!

Radio Milan CD Now Available

In a former life I was a musical artist.

If anyone remembers Tulsa’s new wave scene back in the early `80s they will remember Radio Milan. If you never inhaled you might also recall The Insects. That was the first name of this musical experiment, the name was changed to Radio Milan in 1982. We disbanded in 1987 after a terrible performance as the opening act for Wang Chung.

Radio Milan T-Shirt DesignRecordings from this golden age of punk are now available to the world through the miracle of the Internet!

Radio Milan: The Jim Anthology

The first tracks are Radio Milan recordings that were released in 1986 as a cassette tape titled Musica la Dolce. Next up is the recording of “Mille Miglia” we offered up for the Explosive Sampler. This CD also features live recordings from a rare television appearance and the Crystal Pistol.

There are a total of 20 tracks on the CD and you can listen to samples of all of them at CD Freedom

Update:

June 29, 2008- Digital downloads are now available of selected Radio Milan and Insects music. The first batch are the six songs from the Musica La Dolcé cassette, originally released in 1986. Watch for more classic hits from the Eighties to be added soon.

www.nimbitmusic.com/radiomilan