I stopped frequenting Barnes & Noble a while back because they were so determined to sell you a Nook and get you out of the store, never to return. (That, and for a while we had a great indie bookstore nearby.)

Now they’re selling vinyl records.

And holding events.

They’re doing Throwback Thursdays and a Fangirl Friday.

I don’t know if it’s a desperate attempt at relevance or a brilliant return to form.

I certainly know it’s not corporate-wide, though — or at least not evenly distributed — because a week later I went to another Barnes and Noble, one near a full-blown mall, and walked straight into the giant NOOK pavilion.

No sign of any events aside from a mention of filming during the Harper Lee book launch. Vinyl was being plugged in the music section in the back, but not right up front.

On the other hand, no one was staffing the NOOK pavilion, and half the tables were empty. So maybe it’s still being phased out?

BoingBoing explains why SMS messages are more likely to get through than phone calls or mobile data during a large emergency. (Short version: They’re async, so the phone or tower can retry later, and they’re momentary, so they don’t tie up a channel like a call would.)

The article doesn’t bring it up, but I’d add the magnifying effect of social media. If that SMS message happens to be a status update to Facebook or Twitter, you can tell a lot of people outside the area that you’re OK (or not) at once, even over congested airwaves or wires.

Update 2024: I wonder how well RCS fares under the same circumstances, and how well it falls back to SMS. Especially since it looks like fallback is an app feature, not a service feature, so I can imagine some third party apps forgetting or not bothering to implement fallback.

Also, the social media aspect no longer applies now that the networks have discontinued post-by-SMS.

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.

So, NPR ran a post by an intern who doesn’t get the whole paying-for-music thing — or, rather, realizes now that she ought to, but doesn’t want to pay for physical media of specific songs or albums.

The Trichordist responded with an open letter about the ethics of file sharing, which is a great read from the artist side of the fence, but also mixes up several issues. In particular, it misrepresents a large part of the “other side.” He starts off saying that Emily White seems to have succumbed to “false choices” presented by “Free Culture,” then goes on to present his own false choices, somehow managing to characterize rampant piracy, Creative Commons*, and the tech industry as if they’re all the same thing.

The issue is not simply “pay for everything” vs “take what you want because you can.”

Among other things it’s about recognizing that distribution channels have changed, so business models must as well. It’s about trying to come up with a system that doesn’t put unnecessary roadblocks in place. It’s about enabling those who do want to share their art in different ways to be able to do so easily.

Edit: It’s also about, and here’s where the tech industry comes in, recognizing that technology does change the legal landscape. Remember the debate over whether Google should pay up for thumbnails in image search results? (Kind of like requiring card catalogs to pay to use the title of the books they refer to.) Or Congress trying to decide whether copying a media file or program from disk to RAM constituted a legal “copy” subject to copyright restrictions?

Edit 2: And then there’s the matter of opening up the gray areas, or rather the areas that most of us intuitively see as gray, but that current copyright law treats as black and white, such as fan art and fan fiction. Technically, a six-year-old’s scrawled Mickey Mouse is illegal. Technically, software companies can tell you how many backups you’re allowed to make. Enforcement is spotty (fortunately), but that means if someone wants to get you in trouble for something else, all they have to do is report you.

If you want to make music and I want to listen to it, I’m happy to pay you for it. I have a lot of music on my iPod, and yes, I’ve paid for it. My last MP3 purchase was a week ago. Heck, I’ve bought music from Jonathan Coulton, who gives it away for free (under a Creative Commons licence, I might add).

So yeah, I’m willing to pay for music. But I don’t want to have to pay separately to listen to the same music on my home sound system, on my computer, on my phone, and in my car because your publisher has decided to put DRM in place that makes it difficult for me to move that music around. If you live on the other side of the planet from me, I want to be able to give you money directly and download the song over the internet instead of having to wait for publisher A to make a deal with publisher B and ship physical media around.

Technology has presented us with new ways of distributing art. Something like Pandora or Spotify would have been impossible before broadband internet. So let’s find ways to make it work for everyone instead of characterizing everything that isn’t pay-per-song as no better than looting.

It doesn’t help to complain about one set of false choices and then present your own.

*He cites the Creative Commons’ tax return to indicate the backers of the Free Culture movement, so it seems clear he looks at them as the same thing.