Putting the Horse Before the Cart: Music Technology and John Hampton Edition

I’m a big fan of the recording magazine Tape Op. It has been around about a decade and is all about DIY music. They were maker before maker was cool. (Plus, the physical mag is beautiful and U.S. subscriptions are free!)

A couple of months ago, they ran an interview with John Hampton, Grammy winning engineer and producer of folks like Alex Chilton, the Gin Blossoms, The White Stripes, Travis Tritt, and Jimmy Vaughn. Musing on his experience of working as an engineer vs. a producer, he remarked:

I was driving home one day from work and heard “Honky Tonk Women” on the radio for the very first time. I heard that cowbell and then Charlie [Watts] come in – I pulled over and rocked out to the whole thing. When I started working here I got engineer ears; I started nitpicking everything. Slowly, but surely, the nitpicking became the captain of that ship. After working in the studio for a while I heard “Honky Tonk Women” again and I thought, “That sounds like crap.” I had engineer ears now. Then it hit me one day that I used to love that song and now I don’t like it. Has the song changed? I’ve changed, not the song. So I slowly started what turned into a ten-year venture. I turned that boat around, falling back in love with music instead of in love with technology and how it gets put together. The only way that I’ve been able to do that is by making what I do, the engineering part of it, so easy that I can do it with my eyes shut. Its all in the background.

That should be the goal, right? Do what you do, not what the gadgets let you do.

Focus on life, not on the tools you use to live it.

A Different Kind of Cord Cutting

I don’t tend to think of myself as a tech dependent guy. I’m probably fooling myself, of course. I use my computer and iPad a ton. I watch television and listen to digital music.  But the big thing for me is that I don’t have a smartphone. What I have may not even rank as a feature phone: a $14.99 special on a pay-as-you go plan. There’s not much to check on it, so I tend not to pull it out. So I’m not addicted, right?

But last week my email was acting up, probably because of distributed denial of service attack on Spamhaus.  That reminded me really quickly of how much I need email, especially for communication with students.

But it could be worse. As David Meyer wrote on March 28 at Gigaom:

According to the Associated Press, on Wednesday the Egyptian Navy detained three scuba divers in a dinghy near Alexandria, who were “cutting the undersea cable” of local telco Telecom Egypt. This was confirmed on the Navy’s Facebook page. Egyptian news agency MENA identified the affected cable as SMW4: the same one whose cutting caused an internet slowdown in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia…

Incidentally, the SMW4 cable more properly known as South East Asia–Middle East–Western Europe 4 or SEA-ME-WE 4 was also involved in a very serious outage five years ago, which cut the capacity of the main Europe-Middle East connection by 75 percent. This one appears to have been less drastic.

So, we are literally hanging by a thread. A thick thread, but a thread nonetheless.

On the upside, both the digital and analog hacking incidents have passed and systems seem to be back to normal.

Maybe I should just stick to my feature phone.

(For more coverage, check out Om Malik’s piece as well.)

Back to School, with Metaethics Courtesy of Luciano Floridi

So, things have been very quiet around here at Rewiring Virtue for the last 6 weeks.  As it turns out, last year I was on sabbatical to focus on my writing. That gave me lots of time to write articles and such, but also blog.  Six weeks ago, I headed back to the classroom.  You can see what a dent it put into my writing.  Quite a gap.

Now that we are at midterms, it’s time I got back at it. And, like any good teacher, I’ll distract you by giving you an assignment.  Luciano Floridi has written a great, nuanced, and complex moral analysis  (via Michael Geist) of the recently failed Anti-Counterfieting Trade Act (ACTA-pretty much an US/EU version of the failed SOPA/PIPA legislation here in the states).  Floridi is a philosopher and longtime technology ethicists.  He is also the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Chair in Information and Computer Ethics at the University of Hertfordshire.  He has been doing thoughtful work for a long time, and is one of the leaders in the field.  The essay, entitled “ACTA – The Ethical Analysis of a Failure, and Its Lessons,” is worth reading (if a bit complex).

Floridi is a philosopher, so a good part of his job is making distinctions.  In this realm, there are a couple of really valuable things that he does in this paper.


Online Education: Just Like Regular Education, Just Online-ier

It’s the last week in August and I’m back in the classroom. (And back to blogging regularly!) School started on Monday, and suffice it to say that we’re all a bit rusty. Add to that the fact that I’ve been away from teaching for a year, and there are a lot of cobwebs to clear.

For teachers everywhere, the start of a new semester is also a time to revise assignments. Most of the time we’re iterating in order to refine and increase the effectiveness of the things that we do to engage students in the process of critical reflection. Sadly, sometimes we’re just figuring out ways to assign things that will be harder to complete by plagiarizing.

And these days, we are all under a lot of pressure, what with the current surge in articles heralding (or reflecting on) the end of the university at the hands of online education. We are currently in the midst of a surge of excitement of the prospects for digitally mediated learning spaces. Some of this makes sense to me from the standpoint of learning. There are so many more people going to college today—both in terms of numbers and diversity of background—than when the predominant model of the university was developed, it seems more than reasonable that some re-visioning and innovating is in order. (Heck, I’ve never taken or taught a class of more than 35 students, so I don’t know how people even do that!)


Peak, Permanence, and the Precision Bass: On What Lasts

The myth out there is that college teachers have the summer off. I wish. I don’t have to be in my office, but summer is a time to regroup, kill off lingering committee work, get new classes set up, and try to get ready for the next semester. As part of that, my computer was replaced. I now have a nice iMac in place of my MacPro, which exceeds what I need these days.

Of course, the complicated part of the upgrade was getting all the stuff that I use on the new machine: apps, fonts, bookmarks, etc.  Lots of reinstalling and updating. Sadly, as I was doing this, I found out that my favorite 2 track audio editing app—BIAS’s Peak—is no more. As Peter Kirn at CreateDigitalMusic.com put it:


Storms Take Down Tech, The Physical World Remains Relevant

A severe patch of storms that rumbled across the Eastern U.S. [on Friday night] — leaving [thirteen] people dead and millions without power — also disrupted an Amazon Web Services data center, affecting service for social media sites like Pinterest, Instagram and Netflix, which host their services at Amazon’s data centers.

Netflix and Pinterest had recovered most of their service by [Saturday] morning. The worst affected appeared to be Instagram — the Facebook-owned social photo-sharing service remained offline for many users as of this morning, and as of 11 am PT, it hadn’t updated users on its status since its initial service failure. Some users reported on Twitter that service had been restored for them, while others said it remained offline.

via Storm Knocks Out Amazon’s Power, Takes Down Instagram, Netflix.

There are lots of funny quotes floating around from people who found themselves unable to overcome the crushing boredom of down web services. For tech junkies, Barb Darrow had an interesting analysis of the outage for cloud subscribers over at GigaOm (including a link to her story about AWS outage two weeks ago). Four our part, we were awakened by the edges of these storms here in Philly on Friday night. Scary stuff here, so I can’t imagine the scene down there. And I wasn’t online, so didn’t notice any interruptions myself.


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