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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2003/06/26
by David Steinberg

Why Do We Put Up With This?

I write to you this month about the biggest travesty facing music
fans. This isn’t a rant about Clear Channel or Ticketbaster or the
RIAA, for those problems are well known. There’s another problem in
our midst, one that has probably cost people hundreds of thousands of
dollars, and no one seems worried at all about it.
It all started with a favor. I was having a security system put in
my house. The installer arrived two hours late and felt quite guilty
about that. He looked around at the mess of cables in my living room
and offered to do me a favor. Before he left, he ran some speaker
wire from the back of my living room, through the attic, to the front
of the room.
Unfortunately, I only had 50 ft of speaker wire to play with. If I
had had even 60 ft, I would have been fine. The wires fell just
short of what I needed; I would have to extend them somehow.
Surely, I figured, that couldn’t be a problem. Radio Shack must sell
extensions for speaker wire. From the tone of this paragraph you
probably already have guessed that they don’t. A simple extension
cord for speaker wire doesn’t exist. Instead what you do is put wire
in both ends of the wire in this plastic and metal device and crimp
it. It’s not the most obvious of all solutions to say the least.
So I got the material. I bought a combination wire cutter/wire
stripper/crimper. I carefully lined up the positives and negatives
to make sure I didn’t connect one backwards. I hooked up the
surround left speaker and fired up the amp.
It only took a minute for me to realize that I was in trouble. I must
have made one bad connection somewhere. My still to be purchased
plane ticket to the Alpine Valley shows suddenly disappeared when I
discovered that my amp had just blown.
Hooking up any other piece of stereo equipment is trivial. You get a
set of RCA cables, match up the red and whites, and it’s connected. The
worst you can do is accidentally flip the channels and get your stereo
signal backwards. Meanwhile, the speaker connection involves cutting
wire, stripping wire, tightening it to make sure that you can get the
wire inside the connectors, and finally connecting things. One wrong
connection can blow out your entire system. It makes no sense.
The only reason I can think of why it’s done this way is because it’s
the way it’s always been done. Notice that the new piece of speaker
apparatus – the subwoofer – connects with a simple RCA cord. We’re
in the 21st century now. Maybe this was the best bandwidth solution
when loudspeakers were invented, but we’ve done much better lately;
all of us who have cable modems have learned how much information a
simple coaxial cable can pass through. I implore you speaker
manufacturers – come up with a better solution. Millions of stereo
owners will love you for this forever.
Extra Special Bonus Mini Column
After I submitted the above column, but before we went to press, an
email for the summer Live Phish preorders came out. In that mail was
a policy change. There now is a 48 hour clock running. Once you
start downloading the show, you have to purchase it again if you want
to download it again after the time runs out.
Why was this policy done? I didn’t get a chance to talk with anyone
associated with LP, but it’s obvious. Go onto any message board and
you’ll see people trading logins and passwords. Make any good policy
and people will abuse it, unfortunately the jerks cost us something
cool here.
What was so cool about the Live Phish program is that they weren’t
selling a physical cd, they were selling access to a file. If the cds
were stolen, you’d be able to replace them. I’ve been using that
argument for months talking people into buying shows. Now it’s gone
and I think sales might suffer as a result.
May I suggest some sort of compromise? The problem isn’t the number
of times one person can download, it’s the number of machines they can
download too. Maybe the number of machines that people could
download to would be limited to two – although that would cause some
problems with dynamic IP addresses. Maybe a future download would
require the last 4 digits of your credit card number; that would be
something that people would be reluctant to give out. Maybe there
could be an annual 48 hour renewal, or you’d get three more periods to
use – none of which could be used within a year of your purchase. [1]
I understand the motives behind this decision. I just hope that they
can come up with a better plan to stop the trading but continue the
protection plan that helped draw me to the program.
[1] The time period of a year is chosen because that would be
effective in stopping login trading. Who wants to wait a year to get
the summer tour.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New
Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live
music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His
Phish stats website is at
He is the stats section editor for
The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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