Learning the hard way: USB Turntables and your Apple Mac OS X computer …

The Audio-Technica USB turntable I received for Christmas was the first thing I plugged it into my office Mac (an iMac 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 1 GB memory and Mac OS X 10.4.11) so I could start digitizing my vinyl record collection. By and large, the pair worked ok but not great. After a random period of recording a record on my Mac, the audio signal would degrade to the point of useless. Solution until today was to continuously shut down and start up again.

So, with an eye towards helping the next person avoid some of the frustration I've had, here's the workaround: Ditch the USB and go back to analog. Happily, my Audio-Technica is equipped with two 'line out' cables, one with a USB connector on the end and one with good old-fashioned RCA plugs. 'Course, if you're just recording off your RCA plugs you could have bought just any old turntable, I suppose or use the one you've got lying around in the basement.

You'll need a copy of Audacity running on your Mac. It's free open-source software. (GarageBand, which comes with your Mac will work, too, but it's a bit more cumbersome to use.) I prefer the latest stable version 1.2.6 to the 1.3 beta for this reason: When exporting the Audacity audio files into MP3 files for the iPod or AIFF files for later burning to CD, you get prompted in 1.2.6 for the artist and album title, fields which are then applied to every track/label you're exporting. In 1.3, you have to enter that information separately for every track (or maybe I just haven't read the manual close enough for 1.3).

You may need a couple of new cords as well. For info about those cords and further details, let me refer you to the instructions provided by the very helpful kozikowski . His analysis of the USB problem has the ring of truth to this former technology reporter.

Infrastructure spending: In the Government's own words

As MPs gear up for the coming political season, infrastructure spending is sure to be front and centre. Canwest News Service recently published a series on the state of Canada's infrastructure by my colleague Mike De Souza. Here, from some records I've received over the last few months through Access to Information requests are some notes on infrastructure spending.

From Transport Canada request: A-2007-00858:

Through Budget 2007, this Government committed to the largest investment in infrastructure in Canada's history over an unprecedented period of time – $33 billion in new funding over seven years. This includes long-term predictable funding for municipalities through extension of the Gas Tax Fund at $2 billion per year for an additional four years (until 2013-14) and the 100% rebate on all GST that municipalities pay. (from a House Card updated on Oct. 18, 2007)

The Building Canada Plan, as the government calls it, includes:

  • $8.8 billion Building Canada Fund for provincial, territorial and municipal projects like highways, water, and wasterwater infrastructure, and transit.
  • $2.1 billion for Gateways and Border Crossings Fund
  • $1.26 billion for the public-private partnership (P3) fund.
  • $1 billion for the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative

From Transport Canada request: A-2007-00858:

A national transit strategy (funding)

• Budget 2007 announced $33 billion of new funding over seven years – that represents about $5 billion per year in new investments. This is an unprecedented level of funding.

• A significant portion of this funding is eligible to support transit, if provinces and municipalities choose to make it a priority investment.

• Given that this funding has yet to be allocated, how can there be arguments that more funding is needed?

• With all the federal funding currently on the table, a national transit strategy would ensure that funding from all levels of government and users is invested in the most efficient manner.

• Discussions are already taking place with provinces and territories, and other interested partners, on a national transit strategy. We will develop this strategy in the spirit of this Government's commitment to the values of open federalism.


Over the coming weeks, Infrastructure and Transport Canada will continue discussions with provinces, territories and the municipal sector regarding the Building Canada Plan and the implementation of related initi atives. including the National Transit Strategy. (From a House Card updated Sept. 19, 2007)

Zogby's New Year's poll: More will kiss their pets than their friends at midnight and other important trivia

Zogby International has released its fourth annual New Year's Eve poll, a telephone survey of 2,000 Americans commissioned by the good folks who bring you New Year's Eve in NYC's Times Square. The headline on the poll is a result you probably didn't need to poll on: Americans are less optimistic this New Year's than they were a year ago.

But dig deeper into the poll for these nuggets:

  • Two-thirds of all respondents said they will kiss a loved one at midnight but one in five said they will kiss no-one.
  • More people will kiss a pet at midnight than kiss a person.
  • 69% expect their kiss to last “a few seconds,” 11% expect it to last “a minute or two,” and 6% expect it to last “until the next morning.” (I hope those are not the people kissing their pets!)
  • Apparently Democrats are more likely than Republicans to spend NY Eve with a pet than a friend. Poor old Democrats. If you know one, phone him or her up and invite them out with you on New Year's Eve.
  • Respondents were asked: Would you rather spend New Year's Eve with Sarah Palin or Tina Fey? Results were pretty evenly split with 39 per cent on each side.
  • When asked to name someone or something that they'd like to bid “good riddance” to with the passing of 2008, the most common answer was “George Bush”. Bush was mentioned twice as often as the number two “good riddance” item which was the 2008 U.S. election.

Technorati Tags:

More Album Art: Barry Manilow to Queen Latifah to Pere Ubu

Snapped pics of and then processed 59-odd album and 12″ single covers today. The results have been posted at Facebook and you don't need to be my FB friend to see them.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Getting Away With It

Some excerpts from an essay by Georgetown University law professor David Cole:

The critical question, now that the administration is changing hands, is how to address the fact that the United States after September 11 adopted an official practice of cruel, inhuman, and degrading interrogation tactics, some of which . . . rose to the level of torture. Some, including current Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former Bush administration lawyer Jack Goldsmith, have argued that no further investigations, much less prosecutions, are needed, and we should simply move on . . .

. . . [What about] the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” which holds that any country has the right to prosecute certain war crimes and crimes against humanity, no matter where or by whom they were committed, so long as it observes the fundamental requirements of a fair trial. [There was the] landmark UK extradition case against General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, in which the UK's Law Lords ruled that even a former head of state was not immune to prosecution by a foreign country (Spain) for torture and other crimes against humanity . . . Still, as a matter of realpolitik, it is difficult to imagine any nation greeting the Obama administration with an international prosecution of former high-level US officials.

Criminal prosecution within or outside the United States is highly unlikely.

But even if criminal prosecution seems unlikely, the acts of the past administration demand accountability. Here's what Eric Holder, whom Obama will nominate as attorney general, said several months ago:

Our government authorized the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance against American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the writ of habeas corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants and authorized the procedures that violate both international law and the United States Constitution…. We owe the American people a reckoning.

. ..there has been no official acknowledgment of high-level criminal wrongdoing. The treatment of prisoners authorized by the administration clearly violated the prohibitions on cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment contained in Common Article 3 and the Torture Convention; and waterboarding unquestionably qualifies as torture. All these violations were war crimes. Yet no high-level official has been held accountable for the torture policy.

Here are the leaders of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John McCain, commenting on the release, on Dec. 11, of their committee's report following an 18-month investigation into torture techniques in the U.S. military:

McCain: ““The Committee’s report details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody. These policies are wrong and must never be repeated.”

Levin: “The abuses at Abu Ghraib, GTMO and elsewhere cannot be chalked up to the actions of a few bad apples. Attempts by senior officials to pass the buck to low ranking soldiers while avoiding any responsibility for abuses are unconscionable. The message from top officials was clear; it was acceptable to use degrading and abusive techniques against detainees. Our investigation is an effort to set the record straight on this chapter in our history that has so damaged both America’s standing and our security. America needs to own up to its mistakes so that we can rebuild some of the good will that we have lost.”

Cool Xmas gifts: My USB turntable


Sensing a chance to get rid of the 1,000-plus vinyl records in our basement, my wife Colleen bought me the coolest Christmas gift I've had in a while: a USB turntable. This is a regular turntable that plays 45 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm records but, in addition the regular phono jacks which you'd connect to your amplifier, there's a USB cable dangling out the back of the unit which you connect to your computer. Find some decent audio software — I'm using Audacity for the Mac (which, though useful, is still might flaky) — and, presto, you're puttin' your vinyl on yer iPod.

Of course, as any vinyl fan knows, one of the chief attractions to that format is the album cover itself. The CD jewel case area just can't compare to the canvas that is the cardboard that encases your 12″ of vinyl.

Now for some of my records, neither iTunes nor any of the databases that store album art, has a digital cover version so I'm taking pics of them and posting them here. (Well, actually, I'm posting them via my Facebook account but this is the public link to them.) Up tonight, the following:

Jimmy Durante: At the Piano In Person (top left)

Sal Solo: Sandamiano

Topper Headon: Drumming Man

Otto Klemperer • Philharmonia Orchestra: Beethoven: Symphony #3

Various Artists: Dynamic Sounds (K-tel 1974 collection)

Various Artists: Hurt So Bad – Rock Of Ages Early Sixties Soul

Various Artists: I Want To Take You Higher – Rock of Ages American Soul

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Black Vs. Wolff re Murdoch

Well this is fun. From jail, Conrad Black writes a scathing review of Michael Wolff's biography of Rupert Murdoch:

Wolff …. tells us that “two thirds of [Murdoch's] mind” is on newspapers; that Harold Evans, whom he fired as editor of The Times of London, was “really angry at himself”; and that Murdoch, with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, was one of the world “value triumvirate” of the '80s. That honor usually goes to Pope John Paul II. These assertions, and many like them, are bunk.

Black and Murdoch were, you may remember, the generals commanding, respectively, The Daily Telegraph and the Times of London when those two titles engaged in a fierce war for circulation and readership, a war which, most analysts (and Black) will tell you was won by the Lord of Crossharbour.

[Wolff] should be, but in this case isn't, aware that Dow Jones, The New York Times, and The Washington Post are immune to hostile takeovers because of a two-tiered share voting structure; that it is not the case that media companies were not “respectable on military-industrial-complex-biased Wall Street” (where did Wolff unearth that canard?); that the London Sun did not owe its 4 million daily circulation almost entirely to coverage of Princess Diana; that it is not true that “Murdoch knew beans about television” after he had been in the business for 30 years; and that he knew nothing of satellite telecasting either, even after he had made billions in that business . . .

…In style and organization, this is an irritating book. …If sentences containing “iconic,” transformative,” “ridiculous,” “being and nothingness,” “fragile construct,” and suspended endings (“well…”) were omitted, the book would be at least 20 pages shorter. If Wolff must use French words and phrases, he should at least know their meanings and genders. There is not and never has been a “haute monde.” There are too many sentences without verbs, too many stubby sentences that sound like a parody of Hemingway in Green Hills of Africa. While I have no objection to coarse language, over-frequent and unnecessary use of it is self-indulgent and grating.

Wolff reponds to this, his first “jailhouse book review”.

This is a new sort of Web journalism: dramatically discredited people reinvented as Web opinionists—Slate just hired Eliot Spitzer in this vein—who will work for free. (Tina Brown herself, dramatically discredited in her own way, is using the Web for a similar type of reinvention—though she, presumably, is not working for free.) … The fact, for instance, that Conrad Black is both a subject of my book and a convicted felon (i.e. he’s lied about the very issues I’m discussing) might ordinarily make him a suspect reviewer. But his true function on the Web is not to review, but to be outlandish, part of a new freak show. Black and Spitzer, and, in a way, Tina herself, are not so much to be taken seriously but to be taken as novelty acts. It’s a laughing-at-them thing . . .

I worked for Conrad Black as part of the inaugural staff of National Post and met Murdoch a few months after it launched. Murdoch asked after Conrad and was quite interested to hear how the Post was doing. I've never met Michael Wolff though I loved Burn Rate, his terrifically bitchy Vanity Fair pieces, and think he'd be a fun guy to have dinner with when I'm next in New York.

For those who want a quick summary of Black V. Wolff, Alison Flood writes it all up for The Guardian.

My book list

I love a good list and, with the approach of the last day of 2008, there are plenty to peruse, what with everyone busy drawing up lists of the best and worst of the year, lists of things to do next year, and lists of things to buy.

My list fetish began early, probably while I was collecting O-Pee-Chee hockey cards as a 7-year-old. I would sort and categorize the cards based on a player's team, his position, his rookie status, left-hand shots vs right-hand shots — you name it — and then I would draw up a list of what I had or needed. This was an immense help as I waded into the school yard with my tradeable “got its” looking for my list of “need its.”

Somewhere in my late teens, I developed a habit for book lists — lists of Great Books or Books Every Educated Person Ought to Have Read and so on. Probably the first such list I came across was when I was in my final year of high school and was casting about for a university. In doing so, I ran across the list of books first-year undergrads must read in the Foundation Year at the University of King's College, Halifax. I didn't go to King's College — I went to Guelph — but I made a list of the books they were reading in Halifax so that I might work through them and, I hoped, sound as well-read as those folks.

So this first list of books I wanted to read got started, I suppose, some time in 1981 or 1982.

Now, more than 25 years later, that original list has grown and, in fact, has become two lists: One for fiction works I want to read and one for non-fiction works. Oddly enough, each has roughly the same number of titles — Just over 2,300. Now, if I won the lottery today and could devote myself entirely to reading the 5,000 or so books on my list, and I managed to read (a very ambitious) six a week, I would make it through my list in about 16 years.

Titles move around on that list, percolating to the top, based on a highly personalized point system. The point system started out when I came across my second list of great books and had to contend with the problem of merging my first King's College list with this second list. Should I arrange my reading order in the order in which the works were published? The current King's list is ordered that way. But what to do with titles that appeared on both the King's List and this second list of great books? Shouldn't the fact that they appeared on two great books list mean that they were, erm, Greater and should be read first? I chose the second system and decided upon some arbitrary award — allotting ten points or something for each title that appeared on both lists. Then I ran across more lists of great books and more points were awarded.

Those in academia at the time will remember that there was a great debate about the “Canon” in the 1980s all across the humanities. The Great Books on everyone's list (King's included at the time) tended to be written by white men from the cultural capitals of Western civilization. And so the idea and theory of a “canon” came under attack from post-colonialists, feminists, post-structuralists, modernists, and many others — some of whom generated their own anti-canon list providing me with more and varied books for my lists. For a still relevant review of the whole canon debate, I would recommend Paul Lauter's Canons and Contexts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) which takes a critical look at the institutional practices in American post-secondary institutions with an eye towards how decisions are made about which books will be part of which course curriculum. It is not an insignificant issue. But I digress …

So I now had a rudimentary ranking system and, as I was an early experimenter on computers in the 1980s — anyone remember VisiCalc running on on IBM AT? — I had a machine and software that could sort, rank, and maintain my list. And that, of course, led to a more sophisticated ranking system. I incorporated weekly bestseller lists — allotting 100 points to the title at the top of the top ten list and 10 points for the item at the bottom of the list. If a friend recommended a book, that book got 10 points. If I read a book by Author A, then all of Author A's other books on the list got points based on this formula: (Number of Pages in Book Just Finished/2). If another work was mentioned, footnoted, or in the bibliography, then it got a point. If a book won a major prize – a Giller or a Booker or you-name-it — then it got an exceptional point total of 500 or so. Upon an author's death, every work on my list by that author gets 500 points. That last rule of mine has, this week, propelled two of Harold Pinter's works to the number one and two position on my fiction list, just ahead of some works by Arthur C. Clarke, whose works vaulted upward upon his death in March of 2008.

At every year-end, I now do a rebalancing, awarding points to titles based on the number of years they have been on my list. My lists has five fields: Author, Title, Current Point Total, Publishing Information, and Date Added to List, allowing me to easily sort or find based on any of those variables. Rebalancing in this way helps bring titles that have been hanging around on my list closer to the top. For what's it's worth, Michel Leiris' Manhood , Aristotle's Metaphysics , James Frazer's The Golden Bough are the 'oldest' titles on my NF list, each one added on Dec. 31, 1985. Metaphysics and The Golden Bough are on plenty of Great Books list but the Leiris title made it on the list after I'd read Susan Sontag's collection of essays, Against Interpretation. She had an essay in that collection on Manhood and I thought it would be an interesting read. Manhood, 23 years after making it on my list, is now right up there and will likely finally get read over the next week or so.

So there's my obsession and my hobby. A gi-normous highly personalized and idiosyncratic book list. And just so I might look back in a year's time and see what was at the top of that list, here's the top ten from each list as those lists stood at the end of 2008:


  1. Hurtig, Mel The Betrayal of Canada
  2. Grant, George Lament For A Nation
  3. Sokolsky, Joel J. Defending Canada
  4. Canada Massey Report on Canadian Culture
  5. Atwood, Margaret Survival (read once already, but due for a re-read)
  6. Leiris, Michel Manhood
  7. Aristotle Metaphysics
  8. Fraser, James The Golden Bough
  9. Buruma, Ian Behind the Mask: On Sexual Demons, Sacred Mothers, Transvestites, Gangsters, Drifters, and Other Japanese Culture Heroes
  10. Goyder, John Essentials of Canadian Society


  1. Pinter, Harold The Dumb Waiter
  2. Pinter, Harold The Birthday Party
  3. Clarke, Arthur Childhood's End
  4. Austen, Jane Pride and Prejudice
  5. Blais, Marie Claire La Belle Bete
  6. Naipaul, V.S. A Bend in the River
  7. Mailer, Norman The White Negro
  8. Pinter, Harold Betrayal
  9. MacLennan, Hugh Two Solitudes
  10. MacLennan, Hugh The Watch That Ends the Night

Bothwell: Penguin History of Canada – The Depression

“MacKenzie King hadn't expected to lose the [1930] election; he resentfully vacated his office and retired to his country home, Kingsmere, north of Ottawa, to await events. Bennett was the one, therefore, who had to confront a problem so far beyond his imagining that it would undermine his health, his government, and his career. Canadians' choice of political leadership in 1930 meant that it was the Conservative who would offer the first solutions for the Depression…. (p. 328) That was just as well, for King had absolutely no idea how to fix the Depression, and it may have made matters worse that he was a trained economist, for orthodox economics had no solution to offer. (p. 334)

– Robert Bothwell, The Penguin History of Canada, Toronto: Penguin, 2006

The Cat in the Hat: Slightly Revised for the Times

Avery Shenfeld is a senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets and most mornings sends out a note in good, old plain economic-ese to explain away the latest bit of data that has come across his desktop. Not so today. Today, Avery throws off those prose shackles and drops the following delightful bon-bon in our morning e-mail:

The Cat in the Hat200812191402.jpg

By Avery Shenfeld

The sun did not shine

All our stocks had gone down

So Sally and I

Could just sit there and frown

We’d dumped corporate bonds

And our equities too

But with bills yielding zero

Didn’t know what to do

“Have no fear, have no fear,” said the Cat in the Hat

“Go invest, go and lend, do not sit there and carp

Sure there’s rain in the forecast, a slump and all that

But you can play here quite dry being under my TARP

But Sally and I we remained very wary

After Lehman’s demise made even banks all too scary

And it was all too odd that the man sent to save them

Had a name that said he just preferred to Cash-Carry

Then our fish said “Look, Look”

And our fish shook with fear

“You’d better start saving, a recession is near

Oh the things it will bump

Oh the things it will hit

I do not like it

Not one little bit”

Then the cat ran out

And then fast as a fox

The Cat in the Hat

Came back in with a box

Said the Cat


“In this box are two things

I will show to you now

You will like these two things”

Said the Cat with a bow

“This first thing, Thing One

Is a printing machine

It prints money to play with

It’s Ben’s little dream

If you’ve lost too much money, then borrow and spend

The Ben’s Fed’ral Reserve is quite ready to lend

He will charge you no interest, trade good bonds for bad

Help pay off your mortgage, so you don’t look so sad.

I call this Thing Two the John Maynard Keynes

It takes trillions of dollars and spends when it rains

On sewers and bridges and other fine toys

And even a bonus for car sector boys”

Then the Keynes ran upstairs

Where he met our mouse Stephen

Who initially said he would try to get even

“I’ll match his spending with cuts” he told all in the House

But soon that thing Keynes had control of our mouse

Then those things ran about

With big bumps, jumps and kicks

As our house filled with money

And with mortar and bricks

And those things from the box

They did bump up our stocks

Then the Cat picked up

All the things that were down

He picked up our funds rate

He picked up our rebate

He picked up the prices for gas in the town.

And he put them away

Then he said “that is that”

And then he was gone

With a tip of his hat