The Albino Spiders, The Agrestix, DUI, The Teddy Boys. At the Wavery 4-H Building, 5:30 pm. $4

The Beat Strings, The Old Scratch Revival Singers, The Teddy Boys, Scenic Memories. at The Reverb.

Why two and a half weeks between my previous two posts?

Well, the past few weeks have been dominated by the likes of mortgage precedings and moving. Leah and I are now the proud owners of an aluminum-sided bungalow with pleasingly worn-looking old hardwood floors. Well okay, we’re the proud occupants, GMAC Mortgage is the owner ;)

It’s awesome.

Well, there have been troubles. The drain lines under the kitchen sink turned out to be all screwed up, resulting in our garbage disposal getting clogged and our dishwasher overflowing into the basement, prompting urgent repairs to be done. On the upside, we have a garbage disposal and a dishwasher!

Went to fire up my old Duron machine last weekend for the first time in the new house – after waiting for cable Internet service to be hooked up and ground wires to be installed on a couple of outlets – and got not so much as a reassuring system beep. All it could do was just sit there vacuously with its fans whirring and its power mysteriously, rhythmically blinking out. Not cool.

Leah suggested it was probably time for me to get a new computer anyway, so I ordered one on our Dell account and yanked the hard drives out of the case. With any luck, they didn’t get fried. If the Deathstar got wiped, it would be a pretty serious setback to the Ragman Archives. As for the network research project, Wallingford probably still has the most recent code I emailed him. The new machine will arrive around middle of this week, likely tomorrow. Meanwhile, I get my web surfing done on Leah’s computer, or during breaks at work.

Eventually I might just try replacing the power supply on the Duron. If that works I’ll keep it as a spare something-or-other. Maybe a file server or something. If anyone has a 300 Watt power supply they’re probably going to throw out anyway, give me a holler.

In reference to this earlier post, I’ve decided to go with the AAC-based .m4a format. As far as the choice of format for the sake of quality goes, after some research and reading of articles comparing music encoding formats, it came down to a really close race between AAC and OGG, both of which beat the hell out MP3. Either one can be played on just about any Mac or Windows PC out there on one failrly popular player app or another. Both had the downside that there aren’t a lot of portable players that play either of them; however, since one of the few portables that plays AAC happens to be the leader in digital music players, the venerable iPod, I determined that there is more likely to be enough consumer demand for other AAC-capable players to drive the introduction of same in the near future. This edge was enough to overcome the slight advantage OGG has in quality, and as for making a cool open-source statement, I realized that if the release of the entire Ragman Archives for free on the Internet was going to make any kind of statement about freedom, it would probably end up being more about the music industry than about the software industry; and that message would probably reach more people with AAC than with OGG.

Also, the upper frequencies that most formats will lose in the encoding (AAC slightly moreso than OGG) probably contain mostly tape hiss anyway ;-)

Add to these considerations the fact that the popular iTunes app does an especially nice job of making the process really really easy on me, which is crucial to me actually getting anything done on it. The quality of rips from CD (in terms of numbers of skips and snappy-poppy noises) is much greater from iTunes than from the app I was using to rip WAVs before. iTunes seems to have a pretty decent encoder too, so I decided to save myself the extra step of first ripping WAVs and then converting them – especially since currently only my Windows installation will read music CDs, while I only have a Linux OGG encoder, so that extra step also involves a reboot.

Unfortunately, iTunes doesn’t give you a lot of encoding options, supporting only one bitrate – and 128kbps at that. But AAC actually sounds pretty darn good at 128kbps.

So I’ve been feeding a big pile of CD-Rs through iTunes lately and thus far every track seems to be coming out perfectly. I’ve started out the wiki with a couple half-assed articles, but I think the progress of the music archives will end up driving the writing side of it for me. No one seems to have showed up to contribute or edit yet, but they will, I hope.

I meant to write a little something about it when it happened a couple weeks ago, but it sort of got lost.  Anyway, Cedar Falls-based band The Beat Strings got a mention in Entertainment Weekly’s “download this” sidebar, where readers were invited to download one of their songs from EW’s web site.  I don’t know who XOXO Records has doing promotion, but they probably deserve a raise.

The Beat Strings are really a pretty darn good band.  I’ve seen them a couple times and recall really enjoying them.  Among its members are a couple of good acquaintances/friends of mine: Cody Brown, and Steve Wilson, who I played in No Consensus with some years back, who in more recent years has been playing in another fine outfit A Is Jump, and who I believe to be a really talented cat who deserves much success.

Best wishes to The Beat Strings in their continued journeys through the music business.  The rest of y’all, check them out.

Finally, someone with a little more credibility and exposure than myself attempts to explain some of what I’ve been trying to tell people about intelligent design, in this article from today’s issue of my local paper, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. (In the interest of fairness, here’s another perspective on the subject that I rather liked.) Unfortunately, it seems they went a little light on quotes from the professor who is supposed to be the suibject f the article, to make more room for quotes from others of the same old lines against ID that we’ve already heard time and again. I suspect Dr. Gonzales had several more interesting things to say in his interview that we didn’t get the chance to read.

Taken as the possibility that the intricate workings of nature and the universe bear the hallmarks of being the product of an intelligent organizing force, as they appear to many to do, ID is essentially a scientific hypotheses. Exploration of this hypotheses would likely marshal resources of scientific intellect from the fields of not only biology, chemistry, and physics, but also from psychology and artificial intelligence, and such a line of inquiry may now have access to technological resouces without which key angles of research may have been unfeasable in the past. It’s also a field of scientific inquiry that by necessity strikes at the very nature of intelligence and creativity. For those reasons, I think it’s worthwhile as science.

What I think is screwing it up for everybody is more of the same religious and anti-religious zealots that have been scewing up lots of good things for everybody for a long time. Religious zealots being far too quick to jump at any mention from the scientific community of the possibility of intelligent forces at work in nature as scientific legitemization of the whole body of their particular brand of religious dogma, and anti-religious zealots being equally quick to confuse that same acknowledgement with the whole of religious dogma itself. And a high degree of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of science itself on both sides, such that you’d think most of these people must have grown up attending American schools during the past few decades or something. Oh yeah…

There’s also the continuing presentation the debate as a simplistic ID vs. Evolution dichotomy.. I was under the impression that ID was never intended to be a direct refutation of the whole of evolution theory, but merely a new theory worth looking into. Sure, it does strongly suggest an alternative to evolution, but I don’t think it takes a whole lot of imagination to think of ways that evolution and ID might coexist and even be compatible – but then, imagination is another thing that seems to be lacking among many of those in our society who shout loudest. Besides, evolution has become a bit of a dogma itself and could probably use some questioning – what are the anti-ID crowd so afraid of? If evolution is such a solid theory, it ought to be able to stand up on its own merits against the consideration of competing theories without need for forcible suppression, right?  In fact, would not evolution, assuming it doesn’t crumble before a particular line of criticism, emerge stronger for the reconsideration?  I was of the impression that continual review and re-examination of theories and alternative theories is what keeps science strong.  If that is so, then I submit that the protests do evolution theory no favors.

Anyway, I think asking or stating simply whether ID is or isn’t science misses the mark. What makes something science is not what is studies, but rather how it is studied. Debating over whether something is science is about as much use as debating whether something is art. Science is not so much a subject or a set of subjects, as it is a process by which we may endeavor to learn about almost any subject. And even being refuted or unpopular in the scientific community doesn’t make something not science, any more than we would now say that Goldman’s Causal Theory Of Knowing, being “no longer defended,” therefore no longer qualifies as being philosophy.

Thus I think that any impulse that seeks to limit what questions science ought to explore (laying aside issues of science being used in destructive or unethical ways, which I think are more a question of the application of knowledge that is the product of science, than of science iteself), and therefore the movement to remove the very question of intelligent design from the realm of science, is in my opinion wrongheaded.

But then, what could I possibly know? I’m just a public-school-educated undergrad who works a software gig.

Last weekend, it hit me that the age of several of the CD-Rs I had burned of Ragman stuff might be approaching the upper end of their lifespan. See, when I first started the project of cataloging and organizing the myriad 4-track cassette home recordings made in the geographical and social vicinity of Joe Riehle's mom's house between '94 and present day, but especially up to about 2000, I figured CD-Rs lasted pretty much forever, or at least long enough, and would be the best medium to store the completed mixes on since there was no way I would have enough hard drive space for all of it. I had accumulated a pretty impressive box of CD-R's as of a couple weeks ago when I noticed that one particular disc, containing so-called "unreleased oddities" by No Consensus, was showing signs of deterioration, and when I attempted to play certain tracks such as the little-known gem "Space-Age Plastic Collar (The Annoying Song)" I found they were corrupted. Furthermore, other CD-Rs I had burned over the years but had not cared for as well were actually beginning to peel -- the top layer, and its underside where the bits are actually burned on, was flaking off.

That was when I realized that the ongoing nature of the Ragman project, due of course in some part to the rather intermittent attention I have been able to give it, was approaching the lifespan of the CD-R medium and many of the discs burned earlier on may soon be meeting a similar fate. How ironic that the original cassette tapes have held up through so many years of sitting around but the supposedly newer, better technology hasn't.

So I began a new project -- ripping dozens of audio CD-Rs back to my hard drive. I still don't have near the hard drive space to store it all, despite now having a 160Gb Seagate as my main drive (dual-boot Win2K/Debian) in addition to the same 45Gb IBM Deskstar I had when I started (make all the "Deathstar" jokes you want, it's never given me the slightest bit of trouble!) But I figure I can rip CDs until I fill up the DeskStar (which I have now done once), then painstakingly go through and listen to each track and note down any that didn't turn out, gather up each "album" that I have in its entirety or can piece together (in some cases, from multiple copies if necessary), move each to a folder on my main drive, and convert them from 16-bit .WAV to a format more forgiving of hard drive space and download bandwidth. Then after typing up track lists and liner notes and tracking down scans of cover art where applicable, the Ragman Archives should finally start making their way to this very website -- probably as some part of the wiki.

I could use some input, however, as to what format would be best to use. The obvious first-impulse answer is .MP3, being so widely supported and having been around for so long. But I'm strongly considering .M4A, the format used by iTunes by default, which I have reason to believe offers superior sound quality in similar-or-smaller file sizes and seems to be pretty widely supported as well. And then of course, I could make an open-source statement and go with .OGG, which sounds good from a technical standpoint but I don't know what, if any, portable players support it, or for that matter, how many intererested parties really care if any do. And there's also FLAC to think about, which has excellent sound quality but rather large file size. Anyway, I should probably pick just one since I don't think I can spare the hosting space to provide more than one format.

I invite input, comments, recommendations, of what you out there would like -- that is, if there are still any of you stopping by here. Joe? Pete?