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Do you love your MP3 portable player?

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I subscribe to an e-mail newsletter, The Lefsetz Letter, which I got turned on to when doing my AOL site (he had a popular, and controversial, folder there). Anyway, the following piece really resonated with me -- the joy someone had of being able to take music anywhere. Until reading this, I understood the MP3 portable player conceptually, but this essay gave me a whole new perspective on the subject.


So before getting to what he said, my question is, do any of you have portable MP3 players? What do you think of them? Do you just use them for listening, or for professional reasons (e.g., evaluate rough mixes while on the road)?


Following is the essay, reprinted with permission of the author:




I am not an early adopter. I want to see if a product catches on. I want to buy it after all the bugs are out. When the price comes down.


Last December at the Aspen Artist Development Conference, every attendee received a free Diamond Rio.


Yes, a Diamond Rio. The digital walkman. The device the recording industry couldn't suppress. Because it could be used for legitimate as well as infringing purposes.

Standing at the table in the lobby, Rob was ecstatic. Telling me about this little device. How great it was. He told me I had to open mine up and listen. It sounded so good.


Now normally I need to open a new product alone. In solitary. Carefully ripping open the packaging. Making note of every piece of paper, merchandise, that's in the box.

But I didn't pay for this. And Rob had a gleam in his eye. So I ripped open the plastic.


And promptly dropped the unit on the floor.

I knew it had few moving parts. I wondered if it didn't work if they'd give me a new one. But I extracted the silver box the size of a walkman left in the dryer too long, plugged in the headphones, and started to push buttons.


Nothing came out.


I started to get spilkes. I'd fucked it up. It was my fault.


But then, a light came on. Music started to come out of the ear buds. And it sounded so good.


I couldn't suppress a smile. But deep inside, I was still anxious. Had this unit really survived the three foot drop? Was it really okay?


A couple of nights later, in my room in the St. Regis, I fired the thing up again. Or at least attempted to. I HAD broken it. And why do I always fuck with this shit at midnight. When it gets under my skin, when I can't shake it loose. Preventing me from falling asleep.


And the unit is so small. Like a tiny baby. I had all this energy I wanted to impart. But I was fearful by pressing it, by messing with it, I was going to further break it. I tried to calm down. I whipped out the instructions.


Finally, I got the thing to work. I listened to a few of the pre-loaded tracks. And called it a night.


When I got back to L.A., I told my friend Jeff about this perk. A free Rio. What was the street value? Two hundred bucks? A few more?


And I told him on a hike not long thereafter that I'd have to bring it over. Load a few things on it. Since I couldn't do so at my house. Because the unit required a USB port. And my computer didn't have one.

But I never did this. And Jeff never implored me. For he's an ascetic. Like the Unabomber, he'd really be happy if we all went back to the fifties and learned to live with less.





Every Macintosh produced for the past three years or so is what's called "Legacy Free".

Look at the back of your computer. Especially if you've got a Wintel machine. You'll see parallel ports. Serial. SCSI. It's like a church. Come one, come all. No one will be turned away. Bring us your tired, your weak. You can hook EVERYTHING up to us.


But not with a legacy free Macintosh.

New Macintoshes come with Ethernet. FireWire. And USB. The latest and the greatest of connections.


Since every Mac comes with Ethernet, each one comes equipped for high speed Internet access. And networking. You just plug the cable in. And FireWire. It's the high speed connection used for digital editing. The holy grail, the new potential killer app. And USB? This is where you hook up all the orphans. Keyboards. Mice. And a stray storage device if you want to. But what's TRULY GREAT about USB is it's HOT-SWAPPABLE. You can connect and disconnect at will. When your machine is up and running. You won't fry a thing. It's idiot-proof.


Funny thing about legacy free machines. They don't only piss off those with old peripherals who purchase them. They give all the people owning old machines penis-envy. Because devices are released that will ONLY work with the new machines. That you CAN'T connect to the old machines. So you salivate. Are eager to upgrade.

And I was too. So I could use this Diamond Rio.


And just before the Fourth of July, I got a new computer. A G4. With USB.


And of course I hooked up my Rio immediately, right?


Of course not. I had to look at it for a couple of months. Gear up for it. Furthermore, what in hell was I going to put on it?


But after downloading a ton of tracks from Macster. And hiking in the mountains listening to terrible L.A. radio. I started to get itchy. If I just hooked up my Rio. I'd be able to hear what I wanted when I hiked.


But yeah. The Rio only held an hour's worth of music. And it would be a pain to reload it. Not as easy as popping in a new cassette.


Furthermore, I had to get the damn thing to work with my computer. And isn't everything a hassle.





Macs aren't as bad as Wintel machines. If you install software, there aren't that many pieces. You can usually find them and delete them. But still, especially with a brand new machine. You don't want to load old software. You risk incompatibilities. Conflicts when you upgrade to the latest stuff. The key is to start fresh with the latest version.


I wanted to do this. But it was seemingly impossible.


I went to the Rioport site. I won't say it was like reading Chinese. But still, I couldn't find an answer to my question. Which I thought was quite simple. If one has a Rio 500, a heavily sold model, what was the latest software to use.


Instead I saw a download for SoundJam. What you were supposed to use if you were using a Mac.


So I clicked through to their site. I won't say it was like reading hieroglyphics. But there was a plethora of information, and nothing spoke to the point I had. Not even on the Diamond Multimedia site the SoundJam page sent me to.


I was stymied. I didn't want to use the CD from last December. That was courting trouble.


I was studying the Diamond Multimedia site. Still looking and not finding answers, I found a place where you could e-mail the staff. They implied that you'd hear from an expert in short order.


Now if you know anything about e-mailing for tech support on the web, you know it's like sending a missive into a black hole. A COMPLETE waste of time. Because one NEVER gets an answer. I'm telling you right now, if you're not paying enough people to answer these questions, don't even let people e-mail. It just ends up pissing them off.

This is the message I sent to Diamond:



The CD that comes with it is Version 3.01.

Now, do I just use this CD and the software on it, or do I download a newer version of the software?>>


I did receive a message in response. Here it is:




On one hand I've got to give them credit for responding. But I said quite clearly I had a Rio 500. I'd clicked on the button for Macintosh. This info was worse than worthless. For it gave me the impression the company was run by incompetents. And like so much in the computer world, I was on my own. There probably was an answer to my problem somewhere. But it would be impossible to find someone to give it to me.





I know people who call for tickets for people they don't even know. They've got that kind of chutzpah.


But not me. I'm meek.


But I've been making advances. Maybe I should call one of those people from Rioport who were at the AADC. They'd walk me through.


But then I'd be like the people I wrote about yesterday. Furthermore, in the computer world, unless you go through the process, know how it works, you're fucked. Because I guarantee you sometime down the line the product/software won't work AND YOU'LL HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO FIX IT!!

So, this afternoon. After I returned from the library. With that Rio 500 package staring at me. That I'd investigated way after midnight last night but HAD put away before creating a crisis. I couldn't hold back. Like Butch and Sundance jumping off the cliff, I figured what the hell.


I put the CD in the drawer. Double-clicked on the installer.


And then I was confronted with a dialog box. Did I want to quit or restart.

Fuck. Usually after installing software you've got to reboot. But that's only if it's got an extension. And supposedly this didn't have an extension. But if I quit, did that mean that the whole installation process would fail?


On instinct. Based on history. I restarted the machine.


And while it rebooted, like a surgeon about to perform a delicate operation, I whipped out the Rio 500. And the USB cable.


At first I couldn't hook it up to the Rio. Until I noticed one side was ever so slightly longer than the other.

And even though I knew USB was hot-swappable, I was still frightened to plug the cable into the computer. Fearing the thing would fry.


And Mac keyboards come with two USB ports attached. One for the mouse. The other for other peripherals. Like a Rio. In other words, you don't have to get on the floor, go behind the case to plug in this machine. Like a human being. In this legacy free world. You don't go into the dark. Everything's up front. Right in the light. Where you can deal with it.


Only I couldn't get the cable to go in. Until I realized that although both sides appear to be the same, they're not. After I flipped the cable over, it slid right in.

Then I double-clicked the RioPort SoundJam software (which had been installed after all). And after launching, the thing immediately went to work, in scan mode. And a handful of seconds later, right there on the screen, was everything on my Rio. All that stuff that was pre-loaded.


And figuring I didn't want to hear that stuff again anyway, I pressed one button, and PFFTTT!, it was deleted.


And then, trepidatiously, I hit "Add". And a dialog box came up. I went to the folder where I store my MP3s. Clicked on one, and a status bar appeared. And fewer than ten seconds later, VOILA!, it was over, this song, this MP3 file, WAS ON MY RIO!!


So I kept on clicking. Putting my favorite stuff on this tiny machine. Live tracks unavailable anywhere. Some of my favorites that I have on vinyl but have never made it to CD.


Then, feeling bold, I unplugged the USB cable. And jaunted over to a pile of electronic gear for a pair of headphones with a mini-plug.


I turned the thing on, as I'd learned on my sojourn the night before. And STUNNINGLY, right there in the window was the very first track I'd downloaded. EVEN THE NAME was in the window.


And I'd tell you what the track was, but I've already removed it.





I hit play. Rotated up the volume control. And a shot of adrenaline surged through my body. A smile came on my face. I'd tell you it was like when I got my first walkman in 1981. Or walking the halls of my high school singing my favorite songs. But the only thing it compared to was that day at Snowmass a year and a half ago. On the very last run. On that wide slope, let me get my map. It's Velvet Falls.


It was three in the afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky. And the sky was SO blue at that altitude. And I was the only one on the slope. Standing atop the Falls in my new ski boots that didn't absolutely kill my feet. And I pushed off. Straight down. Pure, raw, EUPHORIA!!


It was like magic. My music was on this Rio. This music I'd downloaded from the Net. I could take it ANYWHERE!


I was beyond ecstatic. I had to call somebody on the phone. Just to TELL them about it.


I rejected my first thought. He wouldn't give the proper response.


So I called my sister. She's a real Nethead.

But she wasn't there.


Even called my mother. She should get to see me, hear me, so happy.


But she wasn't there either.


So I called the king of early adopters, Daniel Savage.





I drove up to the Palisades. To share the joy with Kate.


Showed it to another friend.


But even though Kate loves Joni Mitchell and was getting off on Tori Amos' version of "Case Of You", she was not losing control. Maybe it was a GUY thing.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's a PERSONAL thing.

Everything on my computer. I could put a track on this machine in fewer than ten seconds. Reloading it every day was a hassle not at all. Didn't even have to turn off my machine, since USB was hot-swappable.

I came home and plugged the thing into the keyboard again. Loaded the software. It was too good to be true. There had to be a hitch. Like you had to download all the songs at once.


But in true digital fashion, if I wiped one song, I didn't have to worry about a contiguous space. As long as there was room in memory, the machine would place the pieces and find them to play them back.

I've been hearing about this. How in the future it's going to be OUR music. To slice and dice as we please. We're going to LIBERATE the music from the CD. So we can hear what we want to when we want to where we want to. So we can customize our aural pleasure just like we customize the desktops on our computers. That easily, that easily redoable.


Only I care what music I listen to. I don't really care what my desktop looks like.

I know, I know. How 1999 of me. To be ecstatic about my Rio.


But we're all geeks sometimes. We're all out of the loop sometimes.


And still, there's only an hour's memory on this machine. I COULD buy another card and bump it up to two hours.


Then again, I could get that machine with Clik media, and make a million mix Cliks. Which I could carry around easily, all my favorite tracks at my fingertips. In digital quality."


Copyright 2000 Robert Scott Lefsetz

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"In Digital Quality" - all that babble to get to an oxymoron. I think I'm a geek and on behalf of the rest of us geeks, he ain't in the club!


But to stay on topic - yes I have a Compaq Ipaq Pocket PC - you can copy sound files over which it converts to WMA format (I've done the with .wav and .mp3 files) and it sounds as good as MP3 at about half the space.


I wouldn't use it to review a mix - seems like a CD player would be more honest for that purpose. It's a fun toy - I've used it for sound bites to play during performances - the quality is fine for samples.


We recorded a bunch of sample comments from "the street" to edit into some stuff - easy and fun for that.


I'm not gonna get wet over it though.


[This message has been edited by stevepow (edited 10-21-2000).]

Steve Powell - Bull Moon Digital


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i have no interest in them. i have no interest in mp3's aside from a quick preview of a song. i certainly wouldnt want to carry them around with me. cd's are fine for that [MUCH MUCH BETTER IN FACT].


and why the hell are you taking civilization with you hiking??? you are supposed to be leaving it behind listening to nature. like i would really want the crappy sound of mp3 spoiling my serenity?



"if god is truly just, i tremble for the fate of my country" -thomas jefferson

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