Media Money

Frugal music

This week, I realized that my older first generation, fifth generation video ipod only has about enough room for a few hundred songs. In the years since I bought the device, I’ve managed to add an additional 15 GB of music to the already extensive collection of music from previously purchased CDs. And I’ve increased the repertoire of music I own, and can pick from any number of genres to listen to on a given day: from rock and roll, to new age, classical, jazz, folk, reggae, blues, swing, instrumental, show tunes, and even opera. And I don’t like opera.

Best of all, I didn’t have to go broke getting the music, nor do I have stacks of plastic CD cases littering the hallway. As I discuss in The Frugal Algorithm, there are many musical options for the frugal now available.


Musical options for the frugal

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I don’t buy *plastic CDs anymore. Digital downloads is the way to go: better for the environment, and better for my wallet.

Online sites such as iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 get most of the attention when it comes to online music buying, but for the frugal music lover, there are other web sites; especially if you’re willing to go outside the box with your music interests.

One such web site is Magnatune, which works directly with independent musicians, and gives customers the option to pay what they can afford, rather than a set price. In addition, the site also features two membership types: one that allows you to download as much music as you want, per month, for a set price; the other that provides streaming capability. You set how much to pay when you sign up (with a minimum of $5.00 for streaming, $10.00 for download), and half the money goes to whichever artists you listened to (or downloaded) that month.

I have found some especially good classical music at the site, including Asteria, a beautiful duet featuring medieval classical music. For an instrumental, I recommend the debut album for AlmaNova, and anything by cello player, Vitor PaternosterEhren Starks’ “Lines Build Walls” is also very good.

The site also features many new age and alternative rock artists, as well as a good selection of jazz, rock, and international artists.

Another, more mainstream, music site is eMusic. Like Magnatune, eMusic features many new and independent artists, and like Magnatune, typically rewards artists more than they would be rewarded through sites like iTunes. I’ve been able to pick up many old time albums at the site, including music by The Shangri-Las, the Shirelles, The Andrew Sisters, Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney, The Everly Brothers, and Jelly Roll Morton. Beginning in July, though, eMusic’s offerings suddenly got a huge boost: Sony and all of its musical subsidiaries (Arista, Columbia, and many others) have now placed their back catalog on the site. This brings to the mix of older and indie musicians such music as the complete album set for Michael Jackson, music from Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Janis Joplin, and Bruce Springsteen, as well as Christina Aguilera and Sarah McLachlan.

eMusic did raise its prices and reduce downloads per plan with this new change, which has made some indie music buyers unhappy. However, the site has also instituted a fixed album price, typically at 12 track downloads, regardless of album size, to many of the offerings, which with many of the albums (especially the Best Ofs), is a very good deal. Be aware, though, that some of the more popular albums may have fewer than 12 songs, but still be charged the 12 track price. Still, everything being equal, the music at eMusic is typically 40-60% cheaper than at iTunes or Amazon.

eMusic runs a subscription plan, where you get so many downloads per month, depending on plan. You have to use all your downloads, too, as they don’t roll over. I typically keep a list of single songs for those times when I have a few songs left over at the end of the month. The music is MP3, of course, as is the music you get from Magnatune, and iTunes, and Amazon, too. The days of proprietary formats seem to be over, long live DRM free music.

(Magnatune also offers other formats, including higher quality WAV files.)

Of course, iTunes and Amazon are still doing a brisk business, and both sites are good options for newer music, or music not showing up on the other sites. In addition, both regularly provide access to free songs, and special offers, which can provide a better buying option than eMusic, but you have to keep your eyes open—the specials typically don’t last long.

A frugal buyer is also a wise buyer, and shops around. Both Amazon and iTunes can indulge in gimmicks, from time to time, which are not as good a deal. One new option that iTunes is offering is what it calls Digital 45 or B-Side offerings, where you can download the “hit” and the “B-side” for a set price. There are only a few such sets available, and I’m not impressed with the cost. In fact, many of the offerings are available at eMusic for a better price. Still, let’s hear it for innovation.

You can also buy music directly from many artists, on their web sites. Most only provide CDs, but some will provide music for download. One advantage to buying music by the artist: there’s no question about who gets the money. However, many artists tend to charge more for music directly accessed from their sites than what is charged at a place like Magnatune, so check with all sites, first, before you buy.

Another thing I won’t do is use file sharing sites or other techniques to illegally get music for free. No matter what I may think of RIAA’s absurd tactics, not paying for music is theft, and hurts musicians as much as it hurts the studios. If the music is in the public domain, or offered freely by studio, web site, or artist, then I’ll gladly accept the gift, but I recognize it for what it is: a gift, not a right. Being frugal is not the same as being a cheap bastard.


Survivor: W3C

If the W3C were a TV show, it would be Survivor, without a doubt. With the announcement of the less than graceful retirement of XHTML 2.0, the charitable would say that W3C is consolidating resources. The less charitable would say that in a face-to-face with the WhatWG and the browsers, the W3C blinked; or was voted off, to use the Survivor parlance.

Survivor Logo

Yes, XHTML will continue, but it’s a weakened XHTML, barely given enough oxygen to survive. In the wake of its rude abandonment, other affiliated groups, including the RDFa group, are left to scramble about as best they can to find a base. Sam Ruby of the HTML WG has encouraged them to jump into the HTML 5 web waters, and grab a copy of HTML 5 as a raft to ride to the future. I hope we will be forgiven, though, if we see the raft as a desperate, leaky ride, at best.

Players on a raft

Our web dims, as the lights of the consortium of web browsers— Mozilla/Firefox, Apple/Webkit/Safari, Google/Chrome, Microsoft/IE, and Opera—burn brighter. But wait? Wasn’t this the state of affairs a dozen years ago? Wasn’t the web of the future supposed to be a goal of what can be, not an infomercial of what is?

Why do I feel we have suddenly embraced mediocrity and called it gold?

Survivor picture

Those who beat tiny fists at walls surrounding HTML 5, are given a glimmer of hope: all they have to do is make a copy of the HTML 5 specification and modify it as they want, and if this doesn’t magically bring about consensus, why there will be some kind of vote and the best spec will win.

I wonder, though, will the vote take place with paper and charcoal, and names read off around a campfire? With some form of ritualistic extinguishing of the loser’s torch?

Torch being doused on Survivor


I remind the new HTML 5 players of Survivor, and the concept of Alliance.

Survivor Players form an alliance


Watching this week

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Good times for science fiction fans. This week marks the return of the popular series, Eureka, on the newly named SyFy channel. No, not “see-fee”, “Sci Fi”.

This week also marks the debut of the new series, Warehouse 13. If you don’t have the SyFy channel on cable, the pilot for the show can be found at Hulu, at the SyFy show site, and also available, for free, in HD quality, at Amazon Video on Demand, and iTunes.

I watched the show using my Roku box and via Amazon VOD. The digital quality was excellent, the streaming more than sufficient.

Warehouse 13 is about a secret government-run warehouse in the badlands of South Dakota, which contains all manner of supernatural and super science oddities. The main characters are a mysterious woman, known as Mrs. Frederick (played by C. C. H. Pounder), who recruits members for an organization to locate, and bring back, whatever dangerous oddities still exist in the wild. The crew consists of Arthur “Artie” Nielsen (played by Saul Rubinek), the long time team member, who is newly joined by two Secret Service agents: Peter Lattimer (played by Eddie McClintock) and Myka Bering (played by Joanne Kelly). He’s loose, she’s uptight, and yes, this has been done before. However, they pull it off well, especially the Bering character. And Saul Rubinek is excellent in the show, taking his character, Artie, beyond the typical mad genius who is above emotional turmoil. The man gets mad, looses his cool, worries about people, but still manages to come off quirky, and fun.

The pilot has the team hunting the jeweled comb of Lucretia Borgia, allowing for a strong female protagonist, making a nice change from the typical science fiction program, with male or monster baddies.

Will you like Warehouse 13? If you like Steampunk, Eureka at its more serious, X-Files, at its lighter and quirkier moments, you’ll probably like Warehouse 13. At a minimum, you can check out the pilot for free.

Other things to watch this week:

  • Watching “Maxed Out” on Netflix Watch Now. “Maxed Out” is a documentary on the credit card business, and is both fascinating, and more than a little chilling. If you don’t have access to Netflix Watch Now, it’s also available as Amazon VOD, and on iTunes. Recommended.
  • Watching the Doctor Who special show, “The Next Doctor” via iTunes on my AppleTV. This show features the tenth Doctor Who, David Tennant, who will be ending his stint this year. A pity, too, as he was an excellent Doctor. Frankly, I’m not sure about the next, much younger Doctor. It’s an interesting experiment on the part of the series, but could backfire. Regardless, “The Next Doctor” is prime Doctor Who, and any Doctor fan will want to view it. It’s free for you folks in the UK. The rest of us will have to get it through iTunes, or via DVD or TV (BBC America).
  • Watching “The 3D Sun”, on Hulu. This 30 minute documentary put out by NASA covers Stereo, positioning satellites in parallel, equidistant from the earth, in order to provide a 3D look at the Sun’s activity. The show features excellent interviews, a nice overview of how the Sun’s activity impacts on the us, and wonderful visuals. Of course, what we’ve come to expect from NASA. If you can’t access Hulu, you can access the video at the STEREO Mission site. It’s also been released to theaters as 3D, but I hate the stupid glasses. Watch it on your computer instead.

    3d Sun

  • For all you old Star Trek fans, You can access shows at YouTube, as well as the site, in addition to accessing on Watch Now, and on iTunes. In other words, there’s always some Star Trek to watch. It has to be better than watching the latest episode of “You Can Dance!”

Happy viewing.



I don’t have time at the moment to write anything in-depth on the recent decision of the W3C to let the charter for the XHTML2 working group expire. Instead, I’m going to list several interesting and/or relevant writings others have done, as both bookmarking for a future story, and for your edification.

I’ll probably add to this list over time.

update I have just filed my first formal objection with the W3C about the philosophy of one vote/one veto for the major browser vendors over any aspect of the HTML 5 specification.

What the one vote/one veto decision principle means is that if a company, such as Microsoft, states it will not implement, say, SVG in HTML, the Canvas element, or any other aspect of HTML 5— up to and including the entire HTML 5 specification — that it will be pulled from the HTML 5 specification. No discussion among the members of the HTML WG would be allowed to override this decision.

This is what replaces work on XHTML2. This is the future of your web.