You know what I miss about CDs and other physical music media?

Liner notes.

Art, lyrics, sometimes stories…

…and credits. Who is that familiar-sounding background singer? Who wrote the song? Is it a cover? This one really reminds me of a certain composer, lyricist, or arranger’s style – can I confirm that?

The performer and title are easy to get, even if it’s not in your own library.

But the rest? If the song is notable enough for Wikipedia, great. Otherwise, who knows?

(This post brought to you by trying to figure out just how many songs on a Bonnie Tyler compilation were written by Jim Steinman.)

Audio Cassette

With all the Les┬áMiserables reading and listening I’ve been doing lately, I decided to dig out an old mix tape of excerpts from Forbidden Broadway. It’s been years since I’ve actually listened to an audio cassette. Most of my music collection was on CDs to begin with, the iPod and my phone have long-since replaced the tapes I kept in the car, and playlists with shuffle have replaced mix tapes.

My two-year old, on seeing it, immediately asked, “What is this?” I tried to explain it was a way they used to record music before CDs, that it has a roll of tape inside, more like a measuring tape than sticky tape, that you have to be careful not to touch the edge (which he promptly did — hooray for leaders). Then I tried to demonstrate how the tape rolled from one side to the other, using the time-honored method of sticking a pencil in and turning it quickly.

And I couldn’t find a pencil.

More accurately, I couldn’t find a hexagonal wooden pencil. A mechanical pencil, sure. A bunch of pens. Some round wooden pencils. But nothing that would actually fit inside the capstan and turn it.

Demo of old technology defeated by…a lack of another old technology!

Defeated, I put the cassette in the tape deck on the stereo and played it. It sounded hollow and distant, with too much noise to actually listen to it. Some media age better than others. I’d bet the CDs I recorded it from (wherever they ended up) still play just fine. I wouldn’t be surprised to find my parents’ vinyl albums still play as well as they did twenty years ago, as long as they’re clean.

It makes me wonder what state the rest of my tapes, both audio and VHS, are in. I was planning to try to sell some of the pre-recorded VHS tapes if I could find someone who wants them, but now I wonder if I should play them first or just send them to e-waste.

I’m burning an actual CD-ROM for the first time in…a really long time. With USB, fast Internet & external drives, I hardly ever need to. Even when I do need to burn an install disk for Linux, it’s usually a re-writable disc — and now that Fedora offers live upgrades, I don’t even have to do that very often.

Yeah, “Real Life Comics” is aptly named!

Yesterday I spotted a listing on Amazon for the complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus for $35. (It jumped back up to $55 today.) I was seriously tempted, but asked myself: how often would I actually watch it?

Since lugging around several boxes of CDs, DVDs, and even a few VHS tapes (no Blu-Ray yet) the last time we moved, I’ve asked this question (in the broader, two-person sense) about any video I’ve considered buying. If we’re only ever going to watch something once, we’re better off renting it. It’s cheaper and it takes up less space.

In this case, we borrowed the series from a friend a few years ago, so we’ve already watched it once. There’s plenty of good stuff, but I’d probably only rewatch a handful of sketches.

As Comic-Con International strains at the boundaries of the San Diego Convention Center, it’s begun spilling over into the city. Go back 4-5 years, and the most you would see would be the occasional street light banner or bus stop advertisement. Now, there are people handing out flyers as far out as the trolley stops, and walking around the Gaslamp in ridiculous mascot costumes (the sandwiches a few years ago, the donuts this year). There are displays near the trolley stops. There are buses wrapped with full advertisements for movies and TV shows, shuttle vans labeled U.S.S. Enterprise — there was even an ice cream truck parked for several days on 5th street with a Eureka ad on the side (and probably something inside it, but I was always on the other side of the street when I saw it).

It’s mainly the TV and film studios (except for the flyers), and it ties into something that author Robert J. Sawyer mentioned at his spotlight panel: Convention-goers are nexuses (well, nexi). We’re the people who are so into movies, TV, games, comics, etc. that we’ll put in the effort, time and expense to go to this kind of event, and we’re likely to talk about it. They’re counting on us going back to our offices or dorm rooms, hanging out with friends, blogging, posting on Twitter, or otherwise telling everyone we know about how cool this and that new movie is going to be.

In short: It’s an advertising blitz designed to kick off word-of-mouth hype, aimed at the crowd that’s both most primed to receive it and most likely to spread it.

With the massive convention floor and unbelievable crowds, they’re doing everything they can to stand out. So we get the viral marketing, like the ads for TruBlood, the Humans-Only Restrooms signs, the army of people in Quarantine outfits, the Neighborhood Watch–style sign for The Spirit. We get the swag. We get the celebrity appearances. We get displays of terra-cotta warriors to advertise The Mummy and replicas of the Owlship from Watchmen.

All that brings in more people, which of course makes the event more attractive to the studios, so they put in more effort, which brings in more people, and they start promoting movies that have nothing to do with comics, sci-fi, fantasy or horror, the genres that used to be the main focus for the con. (I remember thinking that Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle was an odd choice to promote at Comic-Con. This year, the sequel blended right in.)

The con seems to have reached an upper limit in terms of the number of people it can handle at the current venue, which is contracted through 2012. I wonder whether Hollywood will demand bigger crowds — which would probably be best handled by spilling into neighboring hotels — or be satisfied with the numbers it’s got.