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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2001/10/18
by David Steinberg

The MP3 Revolution

Perhaps due to hanging out with the People for a Clearer Phish crowd,
I never really thought much about mp3s. If you asked me about them, I
would probably mumble the words, "lossy compression" and leave it at
that. Despite not exactly being an audiophile myself, I refused to
acknowledge the value of mp3s. Sure I tried buying a cd mp3 player
for my Trey tour back in March, but the interface that it had was too
annoying to make me want to use it. After doing some more research
(such as the message board on, I ended up
buying the Neo portable player. Within a week of owning it, my
feelings towards mp3s changed.
The Neo player is a device that can fit in the palm of my hand. It’s
about the size of a portable cd player and is only a little bit
heavier. With the same degree of difficulty as putting in a battery
into a remote control, you can just slap in a formatted lap top hard
drive. Connect the device to your (alas Windows only I believe)
computer and it will see it as another hard drive. Copy mp3 files
from your computer over and you’re set. My 20 gig hard drive holds
about 300 hours of music.
Think about that for a second. While the sound quality isn’t perfect,
it’s much better than the cassette tapes that I used in my youth.
Imagine having 200 tapes with you at all times. It’s powerful. When
I’m at work or on the bus or camping, no matter what song I want to
hear, odds are that I can satisfy the song craving. Put it on shuffle
play, and it’s a radio station that only plays songs that I like.
I don’t want to oversell this particular player. The Neo player
definitely has some problems. The shuffle algorithm isn’t the best;
the player has some favorite songs that it plays much more than a true
random player would do. The player crashes every now and then,
requiring you to turn it off and then on. I’m on my 3rd unit. The
first two had problems with the AC Adapter. Allegedly that problem
has now been fixed though. Early adopter issues aside, the ability
to have that much music – with an easily searchable format – will
be enough to let me put up with all sorts of usability problems.
The hardware problems will be fixed. My worries are the governmental
While Napster was fun, it was also stupid. When people are trading
music that obviously, the record companies are going to have issues.
They’ve been taking the offensive lately. First they passed the DMCA,
making it illegal to circumvent a copy protection scheme, no matter
how lame. Then record companies started working on trying to make
attempts to make cds unrippable. Sure those ways will be easily
defeated, but remember, the DMCA makes it illegal to distribute the
software that would defeat it. As if that’s not bad enough, Fritz
Hollings is introducing The Security Systems Standards and
Certification Act. This act would make it illegal to create any sort
of computer equipment that doesn’t have the latest security features
demanded by Congress. Imagine it being illegal to sell a cd burner or
hard drive that would let you rip tracks to it. While I understand
the need to have some copyright protection, this bill goes way too
far. I have 300 hours of mp3s and none of them are illegal. I want
the ability to have all of the music that I buy with me at all time.
Why should that be illegal?
For more information on DMCA issues, check out
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico
State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music
the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish
website is at and he was the stats section editor
The Phish Companion.

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