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April 2005

Beechlog
 
The on-line magazine of the Burnham Beeches Radio Club.

Welcome to the April 2005 edition of Beechlog.

Well here's Beechlog, late as usual. I've not had much inspiration lately, hence the delay. I've had some stuff sitting on my Psion since before Christmas, it looks pretty awful now, but what the hell.

I was prompted to get this issue out by my sister. Somehow she has found my writings, and recently published an extract in her horsey newsletter, ignoring my copyright stuff at the end of Beechlog! I guess I can't complain, I do tend to go on about copyright in here.

Things have been happening here, hence the delay to recent issues. I am now a single man again, the Slough County Court did not bother to tell me or my solicitor. It all happened on Valentines Day, ironic, isn't it. I've also changed church. Being a man in a church is a bit rare these days, so they are finding things I can do. This is not a bad thing, you can never have too many friends and people to talk to.

Roger GØHZK, Editor

Contents

A threat to new technology
Analogue and Digital
The Licence
Reviews
AGM and Committee Minutes

A threat to new technology

Recently I had to replace my mobile phone. My old one kept resetting and deleting incoming messages, which was a bit of a pain. Armed with my new phone, I did a bit of research on the web, and was surprised (not really) at the number of sites that expected me to pay good money for very little. There seem to be a great many companies selling ringtones. I was only looking for a specification, but found that a few seconds of a current pop tunes would cost me almost as much as buying the single. I imagine that people actually pay this money, or these companies would not exist!

By coincidence, I was also looking for the lyrics to a song popular in 1919. In those days, if you wanted to hear this music at home, you bought the sheet music. This gave you the capability of playing the tune on your own instrument, in whatever way you wished. There was copyright back then, but I assume that the holders accepted the fact that there were practical restrictions on what control they could impose. Not so today.

It does seem that today, in our 'free' countries, that business is trying to extend that control to the limits. This is no more so than in the land of the free, but it will happen here as well, as EU countries blindly accept the instruction of the huge corporations promoting such control.

In the EU at the moment they are trying to enact legislation to enable patents to be granted on software. This is already law in the US, and the corporations that achieved this over the pond are actively promoting it here. There are allegations that US companies are threatening EU countries with pulling out their EU businesses, and indeed some countries have reversed their original opposition with no good reason.

If this legislation is passed the main effect will be on smaller businesses, whose costs will be increased by the necessity to ensure that products have no patented code inside. Any programmer changing jobs will have to take extra care not to bring with him techniques learned at his previous job, which may have been patented without his knowledge.

In the US they are still battling with those who copy media. While it is illegal to copy, say, a DVD, the hardware enabling you to do this is quite legal to possess. Since it is difficult to fully protect the media, there is currently a bill before the US goverment that intends to change this. If this gets through, DVD writing software and hardware will have to actively prevent the copying of copyright DVDs. Some people think that this law will actually prevent the selling of any DVD writer.

I am reminded of the battles decades ago when video recorders were first marketed to the public. Broadcasters did not want the public to tape their broadcasts, and tried to stop the sale of recorders. US broadcasters currently transmit a flag with programmes which they do not want recorded, and the proposed law will enable them to force manufacturers to make it impossible for their products to ignore the flag. The US already has a law which prevents anyone from circumventing such protections.

While I can understand why the US corporations wish to prevent copying, the result will be to make criminals of more US citizens. The corporations may extend their income for a little longer, but eventually the system will fall over. Tight control will inhibit the US from advancing, while benefiting that part of the world that refuses to buckle under to US demands.

It is amazing how much technology is really illegal. I have my TV aerial fed through my Sky box to a splitter/amplifier, which routes the signals to other rooms. This is contrary to Sky's licence agreement, which says I have to buy extra boxes for extra TVs. They could sue me if they wanted. Just as well the distribution is by coax. If I had used one of the legal RF gizmos, I could probably be done for broadcasting copyright programs as well.

As I have said before, I copy Sony (and other) CDs via Sony software to a Sony MiniDisc machine so I can listen while out walking etc. All this is illegal in the UK, despite Sony selling me the equipment specifically designed to break the law. Mind you, companies sell music downloads at differing prices across the EU, and prevent you from downloading from the cheapest site, contrary to EU law. I don't suppose either of us will be done for it. The excuse is that different rights agreements apply in different EU countries. I don't know whether this is lawful either. So taking my Walkman on holiday might be illegal too.

And I don't know whether I can play CDs in the car when I have passengers. Does this count as public performance? I know we are prohibited from lending CDs, DVDs and Videos to other people, even though this sort of thing is commonplace.

You might have heard of the service on the BBC website which allows you to listen to streamed repeats of radio programmes broadcast over the last seven days. If you try to figure out the web addresses for any of these streams, you will have some difficulty, as they are well hidden. The service is not intended for those who may wish to record the program to listen to later. There is software that will do this - but take note that some of this has been withdrawn due to the strong arm tactics of RealNetworks in the USA. Streambox can be found on the net, but possession is illegal in the USA. In the USA, devices that enabled users to skip TV adverts have been eliminated by large corporations suing their builders out of existence. Skipping through adverts has been described as theft. You may have noticed that DVD players prevent you from skipping through any material that Hollywood has deemed necessary for you to watch! For those of us who just want to watch the film, DVDs can be copied with DVDShrink, eliminating any unwanted material. I don't know where the author (of DVDShrink) lives, but the makers of DVD X-Copy were sued out of existence by Hollywood, so it's a wonder that the former product is still around.

Deciding what is legal can also be difficult. I recently read in a magazine a letter about licence and user agreements. The writer had intended to buy a UK lottery ticket over the web, and examined the Terms and Conditions for doing so. He did a word count, I forget how many, but by reading at the rate of 200 words per minute would have taken almost three hours! Software end user licences are getting like that. When loading software a few years ago, many applications forced you to go through all the pages before allowing you to continue. Now that there are so many pages, they don't bother any more. Not only sound but images are subject to copyright, even those found on web pages. This is often quite fair, but many people fall foul of this unintentionally. I did mess about trying different images as my phones 'wallpaper'. I've tried Test Card F, the Apple Computer logo, the Windows 'Teletubbies' theme, and various others. Currently I have a picture of a windmill up in the Chilterns - I took this myself, so I should be OK.

My Beechlog CD and DVD 'reviews' also feature images snaffled from elsewhere on the web. Quite illegal, even if I took the pictures myself, although I think that there is some get-out for the publication of reviews. I'm not bothered too much, if anyone complains I'll remove them. People 'borrow' images all over the web. I do know of cases of whole web sites being ripped off, and legal action being taken, quite justified in most cases.

Where will this end up? I'm sure I don't know. As I have said before, there are different ways of getting compensation for other peoples use of your intellectual property. But it's difficult to see how this will work in a market economy. Some smart folks need to work on this before the current systems collapse.

Analogue and digital

I just happened to be looking for some information recently, and stumbled across a discussion of analogue versus digital recording and reproduction systems. This was started by someone who stated that his compact cassette player sounded better than the CD system he had recently bought. An interesting discussion followed. I basically got such thoughts out of my system a few decades ago, this saved me a lot of money! But it did get me thinking of the days when I messed about building audio equipment, and the problems surrounding it.

Circuits for Audio Amplifiers My music was initially provided by home built equipment. Mullard's green book "Circuits for Audio Amplifiers" provided the inspiration for us all back then - I must have lost this book some years ago, do any BBRC members still have it? (I've discovered that a reprint is still available - Amazon USA list it here.) My first amplifier used an ECL82 and an old heater transformer coupling the anode to the speaker. Later a variation on the "Five-Ten" was built, with two EL84 valves.

I also bought a Collaro tape deck, and built the tape amplifier circuit from the Mullard book. This went into a large, heavy wooden case.

When I got onto transistors, I built a record amplifier onto a Philips cassette player, and a number of transistor amplifiers. I still have some of these, I hope to get my Tobey & Dinsdale amp going again after someone on the ukra news group kindly sent me some germanium power transistors. Building this stuff involved trying to maintain linearity through each stage of the circuit. The tape recorders added the complication of bias frequency and levels, and much of this was trial and error.

I found plenty of problems playing Vinyl records, even though I built the equipment out of good quality commercial parts. The pickup cartridges were sensitive to temperature and humidity, and arms and turntables added their own contribution to the music. I still read today of the wonderful sound of vinyl - the writers presumably live on a different planet.

Digital music brings it's own problems. Whether it compares with 30 inch per second tape recording I cannot tell, but it is certainly more practical. I don't have to worry about noise, pitch, speed imperfections, temperature, and so on, and despite early warnings about degradation of CDs, my earliest ones still play perfectly well. I can't say the same of my vinyl records. While they still play, as do my 35 year old cassettes, I can't guess what state they would be in if they had been in use all this time.

Oddly enough we are still using first-generation digital equipment. CDs are still 16-bit, 44.1kHz, and mp3's and the like much the same. While there are improvements around, like DVD-A and SACD, these have not gained much ground, the mad rush to mp3 shows that convenience is winning over absolute quality. A 128k mp3 has low noise levels, no wow and flutter, clicks, or scratches, and does not degrade. The average listener hears no difference between the mp3 and the CD it was ripped from.

There are drawbacks to digital. Microsoft is pushing its "Media Center" (ugh) software which adds the obvious advantage of viruses, trojans, etc., and if you are lucky a nice blue screen and the refusal to boot up. And the wonderful DRM infection, which every music lover never realised was needed. And the ability to lose everything in one nice hard disk failure. Actually I wouldn't mind a CD player like thing with a hard disk. It must beat shuffling through shelves and boxes of CDs and DVDs. Whether anyone will spend any time on a decent user interface is anyone's guess.

The Licence

As I write this stuff, there has been a heated debate amongst radio amateurs about Ofcom's wish to 'deregulate' various radio services, including amateur radio. When this all started, the amateur community interpreted the initial publications literally, expecting the licence requirements to be abolished and uncouth elements to take over the bands.

All along this seemed unlikely, but a good many people published comments in various forums far and wide, fearing the worst. As further details appeared, these worries appeared unfounded. The reality seems to be that Ofcom want to rid themselves of the bother of running a licensing system. I suspect that the million pounds or so paid in annual licence fees is more trouble than it's worth. Ofcom would like radio amateurs to do this themselves, and at the moment there is only one representative body that they can look to.

This fact has annoyed certain vociferous amateurs more than anything else. The RSGB is blamed for every perceived problem in amateur radio, thus horror has been expressed in some quarters, especially the 12wpm, essay style RAE, brigade who would have pulled up the drawbridge decades ago.

It seems that Ofcom would like to issue licences valid for five years, or for life. The latter seems an attractive prospect, and has been supported because the RSGB would not be able to make any money out of it. I find it amusing that certain of the supporters were expressing wishes that licence fees should be far more expensive only a year ago.

I gather that Ofcom are to publish detailed proposals in a month or so. It will be interesting to see what they propose to do. As I write, Ofcom have published an early warning describing what they are to propose, click here. This discussion has come at an appropriate time. I was expecting usenet downloads to greatly decrease after the apparent arrest of one of the most noisy contributors to the amateur groups. Ofcom's intentions have more than compensated.

Reviews

I haven't bought much in the way of entertainment these last few months. Cinema and TV films haven't inspired me, nor have there been any CD releases of note. The local shops have got worse, and I'm not up to browsing on the web for very long.

Laisse Tes Mains Sur Mes Haunches I have seen a few French films at work. I tend to see them bits at a time, as I use them to assess audio and video performance. Whoever duplicates them writes them in such a way that precise alignment of my equipment is required to get the best playback. These films are not like Hollywood (although I have 'Some Like It Hot' dubbed into French, they have left Marilyn's singing intact). Generally they are quite light and easy to watch. I have seen the one whose title translates to something like Leave your hands on my hips about twenty times. It's a romantic thing about a woman whose daughter is leaving home, leaving her alone. She has a 'romance' with a Carnie, a man who works at the fairground.

Mensonges et Trahisons There's another one, Lies and Treason, that I have seen bits of nearly every day. It's about a man, a ghost writer, who has a romance with two women. It all ends up happily ever after. Then there's the one about the man who manages an Edith Piaf tribute singer, and the 'Man on the train' that I can't quite figure out.

Meridian 1970 I have bought a few CDs. Meridian 1970 is a collection of twenty recordings from, well, 1970. This is around the time I spent evenings deafening myself for 50p an evening, beer extra. Some difficult to categorise stuff: Free's instrumental 'Mouthful of Grass', Rod Stewart with the classic 'Man of Constant Sorrow', Donovan's 'Song Of The Wandering Aegus', and Dave Mason, Nick Drake, and many more.

Joe Meek Back to my schooldays. I found 'Joe Meek - The Alchemist of Pop'. 56 tracks on this one! Joe Meek was an independent producer of hundreds of hits between 1959 and 1967, when he apparently murdered his landlady and killed himself. His recording studio was a small London flat. This gave his recordings an instantly recognised sound, as did his overlaying of multiple tracks and the distortion that resulted.

I listened to this in the car, with a silly grin on my face. I last heard some of them on Luxembourg forty years ago, and more. John Leyton's Johnny Remember Me, Wild Wind, Lonely City. Mike Berry's Tribute to Buddy Holly. Glenda Collins' I Lost My Heart At The Fairground, Something I've Got To Tell You. Heinz's Just Like Eddie. The Honeycomb's Have I The Right, That's The Way. The Tornado's Telstar, Robot. Screaming Lord Sutch, Michael Cox, Lance Fortune, Emile Ford. Some of these were banned by the BBC, including some instrumentals!

I've bought some Shostakovich Trios, Quartets and the Quintet, quite unique stuff. I'm looking out for Peter Maxwell Davies stuff, not much of this in Slough. He a prolific composer living somewhere in the Orkney Islands, and has produced a wide range of music. Much of this can be bought on made-to-measure CDs from the web, so I guess I'll try this after next pay day.

BBRC AGM 2005 minutes

Hopefully you all have Acrobat Reader on your computers (is there a RiscOS version?) as rather than transforming the Word documents into html, I have converted then to PDF. Click on the links below and they should open up into separate windows.

Minutes of 2005 BBRC AGM

Minutes of BBRC Committee Meeting, April 2005