Fish Nation Information Station

News from the world of music, entertainment, communications, and technology.


The New Year Online

If you're connected to the Internet, you're connected to the New Year’s Eve celebration. At least that’s the promise of dozens of web sites that are putting a special emphasis on bringing the new year to the world.

To many people, the ultimate New Year’s Eve party is in Times Square in New York City. Every year, EarthCam provides live coverage of that event with multiple webcams. Go there early to see archived video of the construction and preparation at Times Square.

Many cities have an official New Year page. Get an earlier start on the New Year by going to Sydney, Australia. Thanks to the World Wide Web, it’s a short trip you can take. Go first thing New Year’s Eve morning (for those in the Americas) to see the New Year roll in, or go even earlier to see the countdown clock.

It’s never too soon to start counting down the hours with the official U.S. web clock, which provides a Java-enabled clock of every U.S. time zone.

Some like to prepare for the new year by looking back at what happened in the year that is ending. For music, the definitive source is MTV (which finally, this new year, has limited support for computers running operating systems other than Microsoft Windows XP). Almost every news source will be running some kind of year in review; CNN's features a scrollable time line. Try NBC for a slideshow of the year in sports and The Weather Channel for the year in weather.

New Year’s Eve is the time to make New Year’s Resolutions. If you've never made a resolution before, eHow has a simple six-paragraph explanation of how it’s done.

Happy new year!

EarthCam Panasonic Presents New Year’s 2007:; Sydney New Year’s Eve 2006:; Official U.S. Time:; MTV:; CNN Year in Review 2006 Timeline:; NBC Best of 2006 - Sports:; The Weather Channel:; How to Make a New Year’s Resolution at eHow:


IBM Puts Parking Garage in Optical Processor

Engineers have been trying for over a decade to develop light-based optical processors that could replace the electronic processors that run computers. Optical procssors should work very quickly while generating much less heat than electronic processors. One of the difficulties in working with light, though, is simply that it goes so fast. A light packet might reach a junction point in a processor before it is needed.

To solve this problem, IBM is putting what amounts to a parking garage for light in its optical processor designs. These optical delay lines run light around a series of loops, not unlike the oval ramps cars drive around to go between levels in a parking garage. A light impulse goes around as many as 100 “microrings” in order to arrive at its destination a few picoseconds later than it would if it went in a straight line. This kind of delay is needed to keep optical circuits in sync, and IBM's design is important because it can be produced using lithographic processes similar to those that create the current generation of microprocessors.


Sony Settles with California in CD Hack

Sony will pay for a small part of the damage its 2005 CD hack caused, under terms of a settlement in California.

Software that Sony BMG included on nearly a million music CDs it sold in 2005 in California, along with millions more copies across the country, broke into millions of computers running Microsoft Windows and damaged them. It also gave additional network-based spyware programs easy access to the compromised computers. The hidden software installed by the Sony hack so bedeviled computer security experts that it took months to craft a program that would reliably remove it.

The settlement calls for Sony to pay a token penalty, less than $1 million, and a symbolic restitution of $175 to each consumer affected. In practice, however, Sony will pay only a tiny fraction of the restitution amount, as the settlement requires consumers to document specific damage and expenses, and relatively few will be able to do so, especially since many of the affected computers have been discarded.

The restitution of $175 is only symbolic and is not meant to cover the loss of data, time, and privacy resulting from the hack. Rather, the amount is meant to cover a share of the service costs for professional repairs that would have repaired the damage to an affected computer. However, it is significant in holding a large entertainment company to account for damages caused by its distribution of intentionally aggressive software. The amount of money, potentially $175 per music CD, is substantial compared to Sony's share of the selling price of the original product, typically under $9 per CD. The idea that corporations can be held accountable for breaking into computers in the same way that individuals often are will surely lead corporations to be more cautious and selective about the malware they distribute.

For Sony, the greater loss is not the token penalties they pay, but the widespread decline in CD sales this year that followed the disclosure of Sony's CD hack a year ago. It is estimated that U.S. music CD unit sales will fall 15 to 25 percent in 2006, a significantly faster drop than in 2005 and previous years.


Time for Christmas Music

Among the dozens of new Christmas releases this year, here are some people are sure to be talking about.

Daryl Hall and John Oates take on “O Holy Night” and other highly listenable songs, including two originals, on their new album Home for Christmas.

The song you're likely to have heard from Sarah McLachlan's new album Wintersong is a gentler version of John Lennon's song “Happy Xmas,” and the rest of the album is equally artful and reassuring. You'll feel the snowflakes on the back of your neck.

On A Twisted Christmas, Twisted Sister reveals the origins of their big hit “We're Not Gonna Take It.” It’s based on “O Come All Ye Faithful”! At least, that’s the conclusion you'll come to after you hear the band's heavy-metal rave-up of the classic Christmas carol sound even more convincing than any of the band's own pop-metal singles. To Twisted Sister, Christmas carols are just another excuse to trot out some heavy guitar riffs, shouting vocals, and hard-hitting drums. If they're turning the music of ten Christmas songs upside down, though, they're not twisting the messages of the songs.

James Taylor, by contrast, has to slow Christmas carols way down to get them to go at his pace. You'll instantly recognize the easygoing folk-rock singer on this album, but it could take a few listens to realize that he is singing a set of familiar Christmas songs, and even then, if you try to sing along to these chopped-up Christmas favorites, you're heading for train wreck. That’s assuming you're still awake after a few listens to this album that’s as warm and about as exciting as a fire in the fireplace.

On the other hand, if you're ready to funk it up for Christmas, then you're ready for Christmas is 4 Ever by P-Funk bassist Bootsy Collins. That’s not snow in the air, it’s cosmic funk.

“Cheer” is not the word that comes to mind when it comes to singer Aimee Mann. Her album One More Drifter in the Snow creates a more thoughtful kind of Christmas atmosphere.

If you're looking for a few laughs on Christmas Eve, you won’t go wrong with Bah & the Humbugs’ take on the commercialization of Christmas. The perennial comedy Christmas band takes the spirit of the season to its logical extreme on their first comedy CD A Very Commercial Christmas. It’s worth hearing just to hear the twisted versions of Christmas songs that turn up as commercial jingles promoting one product or another.


HP Pays $14 Million in Spying Case

In a settlement between Hewlett-Packard (HP) and California, HP will pay the state $14,500,000. The agreement settles claims that the printer maker and its directors, officers, and employees used fraudulent means to obtain private records related to journalists, company employees, and others.

As part of the settlement, HP agreed to change its operations to permit effective oversight of any future investigations it might undertake. HP got involved in spying as it was investigating unflattering press reports about the deliberations of its board of directors.

Several former employees face criminal charges in an ongoing investigation of the matter, and the company and its executives may be liable for insider stock trades that took place in the days before the scandal became public.

The scandal has not bothered Wall Street. HP's stock is up 36 percent from a year ago in spite of flat revenue and shrinking margins in the printer and computer markets.



After every election, it seems, pollsters have to go over the election results and try to figure out why the way voters actually voted was so different from what the polls predicted. In this year’s U.S. election, the nature of the gap between prediction and results is more obvious than usual. For the first time, voters under 35 voted in numbers similar to those of other age groups. Previously, it was a political axiom that young people don’t vote, but politicians will have to take younger voters more seriously now. Pollsters always say the hardest thing to do is to predict who is likely to vote, and this time it was a political sea change that few people saw coming.

Hewlett-Packard's legal troubles in the wake of its spy scandal are mounting. Half a dozen executives who were said to be involved in illegal spying within the company and on journalists could go to jail, and the company may face a civil suit in California on behalf of the individuals whose identities were stolen or whose personal information was illegally obtained. In addition, the company and executives face a shareholder lawsuit that complains about insiders dumping their shares in the days before the spying scheme was revealed.

The United Kingdom might be the first country to phase out radio broadcasting. Many of the country's radio licenses are up for renewal next year, and regulators are considering changes that would free up the radio band for digital information services that would provide news, weather, music, and other programming in a more flexible format than radio. Any such transition, though, could take 30 years or so to complete.

Most retailers are reporting increased sales as the Christmas shopping season begins. The notable exception is Wal-Mart, whose same-store sales are off about 5 percent from last year. The retailer blames the decline on remodeling going on in some stores and some failed merchandising experiments.


Clear Channel Rescued

What would happen if the largest radio station operator in the world went bankrupt? It’s a question people can stop worrying about, at least for now, as Clear Channel seems to have found a buyer.

Under the terms of the tentative deal, a private group of venture capitalists will pay cash for Clear Channel. Clear Channel is continuing to consider bids until December 7, but it seems unlikely that a better offer would come in.

The deal values Clear Channel at close to its liquidation value, but it is not considered a liquidation deal. The new owners plan to sell off Clear Channel's 42 television stations and a third of its 1,150 radio stations in order to concentrate on the large-market radio stations that provide most of the revenue. There, it is hoped that cost-cutting can return the stations to profitability.

The Clear Channel empire was put together after changes in U.S. laws in 1996 that permitted virtually unlimited radio station ownership. The company's radio business went into a tailspin in 2003, however. The downturn has been blamed on the stagnant program offerings that have plagued commercial radio generally and on the increasing popularity of commercial-free audio listening as the iPod, satellite radio, public radio, and the Internet’s streaming audio offerings have each taken listeners away from commercial radio.


New This Week

Here’s a quick list of new things this week.

Yusuf album: On An Other Cup, the name is Yusuf, the beard is longer, and the folk-oriented sound is replaced with a lighter rock sound, but fans of the Cat Stevens catalog will instantly recognize the voice and the writer.

PlayStation 3: Hundreds of fans lined up in advance to get the first PlayStation 3 game computers. PS3 has more horsepower than PS2, though Sony says it will need to make changes in the software to make it more compatible with PS2 games. Most gamers are waiting for the lower prices that are sure to come when the initial rush is over.

Bat Out of Hell III: Meat Loaf defied the skeptics, including former producer Jim Steinman, to release his new album.

Microsoft’s music player: The name is easy to forget, the features range from cool to unforgivably corporate, and reviewers are comparing it to the original iPod. It’s not compatible with Windows Vista and won’t play licensed Windows Media files. $250.

Rod Stewart tour: He has a chart-topping album, Still the Same, and Rod Stewart is setting out on his biggest tour in years.


Tough Times for Electronic Voting

Advocates of electronic voting machines will have a tougher time making the case for the devices after yesterday's U.S. election.

Almost every imaginable failure was reported. Machines were delivered to the wrong polling places or were configured incorrectly. They failed to boot up, or crashed. Batteries failed. User interface design failures gave an advantage to one candidate or another. Votes had to be discarded after machines showed unqualified candidates for a race. Power failures brought voting to a stop. Dozens of polling places stayed open late to try to give people a chance to vote. Thousands of voters waited for hours or gave up and went away without voting.

There were even problems with optical-scan paper ballots, although these, it seems, could be more easily corrected. The most serious problem reported was a shortage of black ballot pens in some counties. Election officials had to improvise with other types of black pens.

Some organizations urged potential voters to go to the polls and cast an empty ballot, with no votes for any candidate or ballot measure. This, it was said, would protest voting machines, corrupt political institutions, or both. It’s not clear how many voters participated in the no-vote campaigns.


Republicans Hope Telephone Harassment Will Suppress Votes

In the last days before tomorrow's midterm election, the Republican Party is making an extraordinary number of automated telephone calls to likely voters. According to the candidates involved in the races, the calls are originating in the National Republican Congressional Committee, although there are some reports of calls from other national Republican organizations.

By flooding voters with phone calls — some voters report receiving the same automated messages every few hours for days on end — the Republican party is hoping to reduce the number of voters who turn out on election day.

The strategy of discouraging voters, known as vote suppression, has been a staple of the Republican party for two decades. Republicans are substantially outnumbered by Democrats and traditionally do better in elections where voters are not strongly motivated and turnout is light. It is a risky strategy, though. Numerous Republicans have gone to jail in recent years when illegal vote suppression activities were traced back to specific individuals. That could happen in the current campaign as well, as dozens of voters have reported improper phone calls to the Federal Communications Commission. At the same time, the strategy can backfire, as groups of voters who realize that they are targeted for suppression can become motivated to turn out in large numbers as an expression of defiance.

The idea of telephone harassment as a vote suppression technique is new, and according to some observers, a desperate technique. The idea seems to be that a flood of political telephone calls will make voters feel so sick of politics that they won’t feel like voting. Yet it is not clear that an answering machine full of Republican messages will have that effect on many voters, and there is an indication of a backlash — some voters in news reports are vowing not to vote for any Republican candidates because of the telephone harassment campaign.

The calls seem to be focused mostly on a relatively few races that the Republicans feel are essential, and this explains how they can make so many repeated calls to the same voters. The calls start by saying they have “important information” about a Democratic candidate, but then goes into a list of political points, many of them outright lies, criticizing the candidate. The caller ID for many of the calls is a telephone number consisting of all zeros. Some voters say they have learned to recognize and ignore calls from this telephone number. Others have stopped taking telephone calls for most of the day to avoid the Republican machines, though this still leaves them with an answering machine full of negative political messages.

It is hard to predict what effect the national Republican telephone harassment campaign might have on the election, but if the election results show unusually low voter turnout in the areas the Republicans have targeted, it would suggest that the strategy was effective. But if voter turnout in these areas is especially high, that would suggest that the strategy backfired.


Tower Records Closing

The Tower Records store chain has begun closing its 89 stores.

The first to close was the one in the basement of Trump Tower in New York. The location was considered the most expensive to operate in the Tower Records chain.

Other stores will close in November, and the last location is likely to turn out the lights by mid-December, well before Christmas, according to the liquidator, Great American Group, which purchased the chain in an auction for around $134 million and hopes to sell off its inventory, equipment, and locations for around $150 million.

The chain's liquidation is bad news for Tower Records employees, but good news for other record stores, which now stand a better chance of surviving the ongoing shakeout in the retail side of the record business.

The record business recently was dominated by retail chains that emphasized large stores and broad selection. With Tower closing, that leaves only the Virgin chain — reduced to 13 stores after tomorrow's store closing in Boston — to carry on that business model.



Apple’s new smaller iPod Shuffle model ships Friday. The music player is so small it has been compared to a stick of gum.

The new Who album, Endless Wire, contains a one-act rock opera, Wire and Glass, parts of which were previewed earlier this year. It is the first new studio album from The Who since 1982. “This is not the old Who, we never said it would be,” Pete Townshend says, yet the sound of the album is unmistakeably The Who from beginning to end.

As expected, Microsoft’s release of Internet Explorer (IE) 7 has been followed by a flood of security warnings. The warnings don’t seem to indicate that IE 7 is less secure than IE 6, however. Rather, so many problems are being found all at once because network experts are scrutinizing IE 7 closely following its release. Beneath the surface, experts are saying that IE 7 is only modestly different from IE 6 — or IE 5, for that matter.

In New Orleans, the Superdome is open and hosting football again. The Dome was seriously damaged in Hurricane Katrina, but the damage was not as extensive as had been originally feared. At this point, the Superdome’s calendar shows only football games. Concerts, expos, and the other events the venue is known for will come later.

With the first election to be run mainly on electronic voting machines across the United States a week away, experts are warning that the machines can be easily compromised. The machines must be watched closely, it is said, because a person of average computer skill could reprogram them in less than a minute if they knew exactly what to do. The problems with the machines are so serious that Congress is considering a measure that would require some elections to be conducted only on paper ballots.

ABC News is becoming an Internet hit with its 15-minute daily news video feed. Viewers are praising the technical superiority of the ABC video compared to other video available on the Internet. ABC News says they produce the feed exactly the same way they produce a television broadcast. In come cases, they test reports or topics on the web feed before bringing them to the broadcast news shows. World News Webcast is available on the Web at 3 p.m. ET daily and an hour later on the iTunes store.

Apple Computer:; Endless Wire:; Superdome:; ABC News:


New Browsers

The two most popular web browsers are getting incremental improvements this week.

Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer (IE) 7 has two features users are sure to notice. First, in a streamlined user interface, Microsoft clogs up less screen space, leaving more of the screen for the user to use. Second, Microsoft has introduced scaling in its printing process so that web page text will not run off the side of the page when web pages are printed.

Other improvements in IE 7 are smaller steps forward copied from other browsers, particularly Firefox, Mozilla, Safari, and Opera. For example, IE will now include a search bar, a feature that has been standard in other browsers for about five years. The world had been hoping for improvements from Microsoft in two particular areas — standards compliance, so that web pages display correctly, and security, so that the web browser does not give intruders a way to harm the user’s computer, but it appears Microsoft made only the slightest movement in these areas.

Meanwhile, Mozilla is getting ready to release version 2.0 of the Firefox browser. Firefox 2.0 supports more languages than Firefox 1.5 and has vastly improved search engine integration features. There are incremental improvements in areas such as security and user preferences.

Neither browser release gives the average English-language user a reason to rush to upgrade. However, most users will want to install the new versions eventually in order to get the incremental improvements that they have to offer.

IE users may want to wait a few weeks as software developers and web designers rush to fix the incompatibilities caused by IE 7. There are no such issues with Firefox, a more mature product that is based on Internet standards and is more thoroughly tested, thanks to the million-plus volunteers who helped with Firefox 2.0.

Both Firefox and IE can claim to be the most popular browser. Firefox is overwhelmingly the browser of choice for Internet users. It has been downloaded a quarter of a billion times, far more than any other browser. But relatively few computer users ever download any browser program, and IE is found on more computers, thanks to Microsoft’s aggressive marketing to computer manufacturers. This makes IE easily the most-used browser, with a market share estimated around 80 percent of web page views.


Google HQ to Run on Solar

Google’s headquarters will soon be running on 30% solar power.

Google is installing a rooftop solar grid to generate 1.6 megawatts of electricity, making it the largest office-building solar installation in the United States. The solar panels will provide 30 percent of the electricity for Google’s offices at its headquarters complex. This will be a significant fraction of Google’s total energy use, although its data centers, where the web servers are housed, are said to use more electricity than its offices.

Prices for solar panels have been essentially unchanged for the past five years as lower manufacturing costs and improved efficiency are balanced by a surge in demand resulting from higher prices for other forms of energy combined with tax incentives for solar installations in some locations. Large installations such as Google’s help keep prices high, but solar advocates say they are needed to prompt investors to increase manufacturing capacity for solar panels.


Google Buys YouTube

Google has agreed to buy YouTube in a stock swap valued at $1.6 billion. The deal combines the biggest search engine with the hottest video-upload site. Google has said that there won’t be any changes in the management at YouTube.



John Hall, the songwriter of several Orleans hits and an organizer of the No Nukes concert, has won the Democratic nomination for a Congressional seat in New York's Hudson Valley. Hall's campaign is boosted by support from his friends in music, including a benefit concert featuring Bonnie Raitt on October 18.

Firefox 2.0 is coming soon. Mozilla has issued a release candidate of the new Firefox browser version, so the official release is likely to come this month. Firefox 2 includes better support for subscriptions and bookmarks, JavaScript 1.7, and spell checking for forms, and has been translated into 40 languages from Spanish to Mongolian.

Painstaking production work and a pre-Beatles rock style that many might find refreshing in an age of mechanized music has given Bob Dylan his biggest chart success since the 1970s. The new album Modern Times hit #1 on the album charts.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin revisited the story of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy for the new album The Captain and the Kid. Fans are raving about the songs but some may be disappointed with the bare-bones production approach. The album's instrumental sound is built around the rhythm piano and drums and offers only occasional hints of the large-scale sound Elton has been known for throughout his career.

The new iTunes Store makes it easier for fans to learn about new releases. Alerts provide e-mail messages, such as the one shown here, to notify fans when an artist has a new release available in the store.


Elton John:; John Hall:; Bob Dylan:


Music, No Strings Attached

Rock bands and record labels are experimenting with selling songs and albums without the digital rights management (DRM) that online music stores provide. DRM is a complicated software scheme that is meant to limit customers' ability to use digital files.

DRM systems work only temporarily because they rely on complexity and obscurity to make it difficult for computer users to open or copy files. As computer users adapt to increasing complexity, the DRM system that is an inconvenience today is a non-issue five years from now.

So as long as DRM is only temporary at best, why not do away with it entirely? The music industry has started to experiment with this. The most notable success so far is Canadian band Barenaked Ladies. They've made all their albums and many concerts available for paid download in MP3 format at their BnL Audio web site. The files are organized for burning to CD, and thousands of fans are buying.

By taking away the DRM, bands like the Barenaked Ladies sidestep the 40 to 60 percent cut that DRM providers typically take for selling music files. Selling files with DRM is expensive because the retailer has to tie the files to individual customers, and software that can do this reliably is not easy to develop or operate. But selling files without DRM is easy. A web site selling non-protected music files does not even need to know its customers’ names.

The biggest experiment in DRM-free music so far is today's release of Jesse McCartney's album on Yahoo's Y Music site. Y Music is adding an exclusive bonus track to the 12-song album, which costs customers $9.99, the most common price for an album download.

BnL Audio:; Y Music:


Movies at iTunes

Apple Computer has entered the movie business in a big way with the biggest revision to date of the iTunes Music Store, now called the iTunes Store. The store initially has 75 feature films available for download. A new version of iTunes has improved support for movies and cover art.

Arcade-style video games are supported on the new line of iPods released today. The initial set of 9 games includes versions of Pac-Man and Tetris.

Games of another kind can be found on the iTunes Store starting next week. NFL football game highlights and game summaries will be available for purchase as TV episodes.

Apple completely replaced its iPod product line with new units, smaller in size with larger capacity. If the old iPod Shuffle was about the size of a pack of gum, the new one is more like a stick of gum, yet it holds 240 songs — enough to exceed its 12-hour battery life.


A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly is a movie in graphic-novel style that explores the complex dynamics of drug addiction and the war on drugs. An undercover drug agent is directed to spy on, or “scan,” himself and his friends. The investigation is supposed to lead to an important drug supplier, but instead the agent — and the audience along with him — become more and more unsure of what is really going on with his work, his friends, and even himself. All this happens in the context of a political system based on secrecy, loss of privacy, and abuse of power, themes that make the high-concept science fiction story seem all too real.


Faster iMacs Released

Apple has announced new iMac desktop computers based on Intel's new Core 2 Duo processors. Apple says the Core 2 Duo will run 50 percent faster than its predecessor, the Core Duo.

At the same time, Apple announced a processor upgrade for the Mac Mini, from the Core Solo to the Core Duo.

Prices for the new faster desktop systems are about $100 higher than the systems they replace.


VMA's Sag, Viacom Head Sacked

MTV again this year used its Video Music Awards show as a platform to promote its troubled online ventures — and again suffered a sharp decline in viewership. Until recent years, the VMA's were the biggest television event of the year for the music cognoscenti, pulling in 10–12 million viewers, but as MTV has pulled much of the show's content from its cable broadcast in order to force viewers to its online service, the cable audience has fallen by half, with 5.77 million viewers tuning in this year according to Neilsen. Worse, the biggest drop this year was in the 12–34 age group that represents MTV's target audience.

If MTV is willing to sacrifice its biggest cable show of the year to promote its online presence, the strategy seems to be backfiring. Software incompatibilities and glitches on the Microsoft-driven video web site mean that most people who go to MTV's web site hoping to see video see blank screens and error messages instead.

If this leaves viewers feeling like they went to the big party only to be turned away at the door, it is hard to imagine a strategy that would bring these viewers back to next year’s party. And so it seems almost inevitable that next year’s VMA audience will be smaller still.

Days after the VMA's, MTV's parent company Viacom fired its president. The board of directors said it was responding to the company's lackluster financial results this year and appointed a board member to serve as a caretaker president. Wall Street reacted by downgrading Viacom slightly.



The new Peter Frampton album Fingerprints is the first album of instrumentals from the noted rock guitarist.

Who Killed the Electric Car? is a new documentary that traces the history of the electric car in California in the 1990s, from its development out of the solar car race in Australia to its eventual demise at the hands of politicians and Detroit.

Darkness lead singer Justin Hawkins on advice from his doctor has canceled all scheduled work and checked into a rehab clinic. Justin was in generally poor health and was said to be feeling tired and discouraged. The band recently completed a tour to support their new album release One Way Ticket to Hell and Back, giving the musicians a hint of free time for the first time since their debut album three years ago. Only one scheduled Darkness performance, at the Skanderborg Festival in Denmark, had to be canceled. The other members of The Darkness released a statement saying Justin is already feeling better and they expect to begin recording a new album “as soon as he is ready.”

Rascal Flatts is the big music act for the NFL opening night next Thursday. The football season begins this year in Pittsburgh with a concert at 8 p.m. ET followed by the first game of the season at 8:30.


Tower Records in Bankruptcy

Tower Records filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday. The move was necessary, the company said, in order to complete the sale of the chain in time for the Christmas shopping season.

Tower Records emerged from bankruptcy less than two years ago but since then has faced the same declining trends that have led a fourth of U.S. record stores to close.


Summer Movies

The two movies likely to be remembered from the summer of 2006 are Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and An Inconvenient Truth.

The latest Pirates installment is not just the top-grossing movie of the summer, but also the most talked-about. Everyone who saw it seems to have something to say about it — an notable accomplishment in a summer crowded with unremarkable movie sequels.

Al Gore’s movie debut in An Inconvenient Truth has changed the national discussion about the effect of carbon dioxide levels on climate change and was the only big documentary release of the summer.


Apple Goes Quad Xeon

Apple today announced new high-end computers to complete its transition to Intel processors. The new Mac Pro tower desktop system looks nearly identical to the Power Mac G5 that it replaces, but runs faster with two dual-core Xeon processors for a total of four processor cores and a host of bus improvements.

The revised Xserve rack-mount server, shipping in October, looks the same as the old Xserve but has hardware features similar to the Mac Pro. Notably, it supports 2 TB of hard disk storage and includes an optimized version of Tiger Server software.

Apple is pricing both new systems aggressively, with prices similar to prices of dual-core systems from other computer makers.

At the same time, Apple showed technical details of its next major operating system release. Among many other changes, it will include support for booting into the Microsoft Windows operating system. Also today, Microsoft announced that it is abandoning the Virtual PC product it recently purchased. Virtual PC made it possible to run Microsoft Windows within the Mac environment. With Mac users able to run Microsoft Windows directly, the Microsoft Windows emulation provided by Virtual PC has lost much of its importance.

It was only a year ago when Apple first announced it would be switching to Intel processors, and the transition has been completed sooner and with fewer difficulties than most observers expected.



The countdown show Top of the Pops ended its 3-decade run on British television July 30 with a retrospective that featured 10 of the show's presenters and thoughts from musicians such as Noel Gallagher, Robin Gibb, and Kylie Minogue. And the last #1 on Top of the Pops? It was Shakira’s hit “Hips Don’t Lie.”

Stephen Colbert has highlighted both his media clout and the fragility of Wikipedia. In a sort of publicity stunt, he asked fans to edit the online encyclopedia to add the claim that the population of African elephants has tripled in recent months. (At the same time, Colbert proposed the word “wikiality” for the supposed phenomenon in which something becomes true if enough people repeat it often enough.) Dozens of Colbert fans immediately attempted to make the change in the “elephant” encyclopedia entry, an effort that only crashed Wikipedia’s servers for hours (although Wikipedia claims the subsequent technical difficulties were only a coincidence). When Wikipedia came back online, “elephant” and several other entries were semi-protected, so that they could no longer be edited by anonymous users.

The rapid pace of revisions in Wikipedia has made its experience of the traditional problems of encyclopedias — factual errors, disagreements among editors, and inconsistencies between related entries — seem like a circus at times. In fairness, though, no encyclopedia ever escaped these problems in the three-century history of encyclopedias, and no other new encyclopedia has ever come close to the progress that Wikipedia has made because of its online, multilingual approach.


Asia Reunion On, Dates Confirmed

It was Carl Palmer more than anyone who urged people not to jump to conclusions about the rumors of an Asia reunion, yet almost as soon as the Carl Palmer Band tour ended, the new Asia tour was officially announced.

Reuniting John Wetton, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, and Carl Palmer, the new tour promises to go farther than Asia’s brief tours of the early 1980s. Tour dates already announced and now confirmed include a dozen starting at the east coast of the United States. More dates will follow as the band charts out a 2006/2007 world tour.

Guitarist Steve Howe puts the 25th anniversary tour in perspective: “Since we only toured for a couple of years, it will be nice, finally, to play for audiences all over the world, many of whom never had a chance to see the group in concert, until now.”

Last year Wetton/Downes released a new album, Icon, and they toured several times since to promote that album. It was amid those tours that rumors of a reunion of the original Asia lineup began.

Promoters are identifying the band as the “Four Original Members of Asia” to avoid any confusion with the recent Asia band that featured Downes and an everchanging lineup of supporting musicians. The other members of the latest Asia lineup, sans Downes, have regrouped as GPS, a name formed from the initials of guitarist Guthrie Govan, singer-bassist John Payne, and drummer Jay Schellen, and promise to pick up where they left off on the 2004 album Silent Nation and the Silent Nation world tour. Look for the debut Windows to the Soul at the end of August in Europe and by September in the rest of the world.

Not lost in the shuffle is Asia’s original webmaster Dave Gallant, whose fan site was converted to the official Asia web site some years ago. His newly moved and redesigned site, now called The Asia Web Site, is still the best place for fans to get Asia news.

Asia:; GPS:; The Asia Web Site:


White, White

The band is named after drummer Alan White and also includes keyboard player Geoff Downes, but White does not come across as another progressive rock supergroup. Quite the opposite — think of White as the new band from Seattle with a few songs they'd like you to listen to. Despite the famous names in the band, the music focuses first on its singer and guitarist. Kevin Currie is a personable, earnest singer best known for his previous work with trance band Merkaba. Karl Haug sounds like a guitarist from Seattle, with echoes of bands such as Heart and Soundgarden in his guitar riffs and textures. Between them, they provide enough variation in rhythm and sound to put the album in the progressive category. Add Alan White’s precision drumming, and you have a sound that is crisp and engaging, with the potential to connect with both progressive and pop audiences. You expect to see Geoff Downes carrying a band such as Asia or the Buggles from his position at keyboard, so it’s a revelation to hear him at his free-wheeling best in a strictly supporting role here.

The songs make sense on first listen and add depth as you listen again, in the manner of a Steve Miller record, for example. “Give Up Giving Up” and “New Day” will have instant appeal for rock fans, but it is the more soulful songs such as “Mighty Love” and “Beyond the Sea of Lies” that could appeal to the broadest audience.


Lionel Richie

Independence Day found Lionel Richie in, where else, Philadelphia, where he was the headliner for the annual concert at the art museum. The prediction of severe thunderstorms didn’t stop nearly a million people from coming out to the free concert and fireworks. Richie performed a chronological career retrospective that focused mainly on his years with the Commodores and funky hits like “Brick House” in a highly produced, polished show. Raindrops chased the band off before Richie got to his mega-hit “All Night Long,” but the weather held up long enough to shoot off the full fireworks display, plus a few minutes more for the audience to walk to shelter before the predicted lightning and heavy rain took over the streets.



The New Cars tour is in park as Elliott Easton recovers from clavicle surgery. The guitarist was injured when the tour bus swerved to avoid a collision with another vehicle.

The RIAA is now awarding gold and platinum records for ringtones. Only the original records, not the synthesized reproductions more often heard on mobile phones, are eligible for the awards. A Gold ringtone is one that is sold 500,000 times in the United States; a ringtone that sells a million copies can be certified Platinum.

A federal court has dismissed most of SCO's copyright claims against IBM for its Linux work. SCO had sued claiming that IBM as it contributed to the Linux project was copying the general approach of Unix. But the judge in the case said SCO's claims were too vague to be the subject of a trial. SCO still has several claims of copyright infringement, in which it alleges that IBM copied specific entire program files from Unix, that will be heard in a trial next year. SCO's suit against IBM is part of a larger strategy of squeezing out royalty payments from Unix and Linux users.

Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth delivered on its promise of the full Hollywood treatment for a documentary on global warming. Despite limited distribution the movie has grossed nearly $10 million so far.

The New Cars:


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