Spot(ify) The Difference

Take a quick look at this picture:


Has iTunes had a gothic makeover?


No, iTunes has just met it’s worst nightmare. This month Spotify has arrived in the UK and will change the way we listen to music online forever.

For those not familiar with this free and legal service, I will briefly explain. Spotify is a free-to-download program which allows you to stream music live. A lot of music in fact. Its database currently comprises four million tracks and it is growing by 10,000 a day. Not everything is on there, but I’ve been trawling around for a while and it is yet to disappoint.

The whole thing is not only legal, but is endorsed by several major record labels who see this as less of a threat to their interests than pirated music, because Spotify pay them a small premium to host their entire back catalogue. It’s sort of like America siding with the Russians in WWII because, despite their differences, they were more worried about Germany. In this tenuous analogy, America is the music industry, pirated music is Germany and Spotify is Russia. Revolutionary, power to the people etc. etc.

Yesterday, I downloaded Spotify and listened to the new Morrissey album, Years of Refusal. Hot off the press, came out that day. I listened to the whole thing without any loading time and although it’s quite good I probably won’t buy it.

That sort of decision making could be crucial for the music industry. Now listeners worldwide have the right to listen to (almost) any album in its entirety and then decide if they want to buy it or not. If people still decide they want to own a physical CD to show their loyalty and support to the band, then they will surely head to HMV or Amazon and order a physical copy, complete with artwork, lyrics and other such bonuses.

I cannot see how iTunes fits into this new landscape, though. Ditto, MySpace Music. If you just want to listen to music on your computer, then fire up Spotify and listen to full albums as many times as you want.

At this point, I should pay lip service to the few small drawbacks. Every half hour you are forced to listen to a 15-second advert, thus securing Spotify’s revenue which they use to placate the record labels. Alternatively you can pay a tenner a month to cut this out, but that hardly seems worth it.

Secondly, you don’t actually own the tracks and so can’t upload them to an MP3 player. It hardly takes a genius to record streaming tracks, but of course no-one would be that immoral…

Since downloading Spotify, I have been catching up with bands who I have been too busy or too stingy to follow over the past few years and it is simply brilliant. Some I will buy, most I wont, but one thing’s for sure: I’m never spending money on downloading MP3s again.

A Modern Day Vigilante

I salute you, Peter Drummond!

Police special operations salvage mission
Police special operations salvage mission

For all I know, you could be a horrible, violent person, but to have the guts to stand up to local drug dealers for the sake of your family is brave and respectable.

Not according to Perth Sheriff Court, who jailed him for two months yesterday. His crime? Breach of the peace.

Let me explain – after finding out that his brother-in-law was taking heroin, Drummond, 26, tracked down John Nellies, a local drug-dealer in Blairgowrie, Scotland, and flushed five bags of his heroin down the toilet, before threatening to kill him.

You only need to hear his testimony to realise that his actions were not borne of contempt for the law, and that his threat was probably a heat-of-the-moment remark:

My brother-in-law is on smack and he is getting it from the people there. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I shouldn’t have done it, but these people are ruining my family by supplying heroin. It is causing a family crisis and everyone is going through hell. Things have been so bad that I lost it and decided to try to stop the drug-dealing going on. I know I have done wrong. I’m sorry. I know I went about things the wrong way, but things just got on top of me.

Those who have seen Trainspotting will not need to be reminded of how heroin abuse in Scotland can tear families apart. In 2007, 64% of the drug-related deaths in Scotland came as a result of heroin abuse and the Scotsman claims that it also leads to millions of pounds‘ worth of theft.

I would argue that Drummond’s intentions and his willingness to confess show that he was only trying to do what he thought he was right. This, coupled with recent reports that Scotland is home to “dangerously overcrowded” prisons, is surely an irrefutable case for a civil sentence or even just a fine. I can only hope Nellies gets a more fitting sentence.

As for recovering the lost evidence, perhaps the police should employ Mark Renton.

A Feast Fit For A Fiend

Happy Birthday, Mr Mugabe! Here’s hoping it’s your last.

A sign of good taste?
A sign of good taste?

The Times published today plans for a birthday party which would be vulgar enough if it was for the chief exec of RBS, but these lavish celebration plans for Robert Mugabe‘s 85th birthday venture into the absurd:

2,000 bottles of champagne (Moët & Chandon or ’61 Bollinger preferred); 8,000 lobsters; 100kg of prawns; 4,000 portions of caviar; 8,000 boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates; 3,000 ducks…

It goes on. It only takes one bleak statistic to give this decadence some context. At 85, Robert Mugabe will be 2.6 times the national life expectancy for a Zimbabwean man.

His excessive pride is clearly not hindered by the fact that his party are asking for donations to fund the party in US Dollars, since the Zimbabwean Dollar faded into meaninglessness when it hit the 1 trillion mark last week.

The detail that really strikes home with me is the choice of “8,000 boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates”. For one, they’ll only get stuck in your teeth, but I always assumed they were chocolates for the aspirational, not those who actually have money to throw around. I can only hope newly appointed Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai will respond in kind: “Mr Mugabe, with these Rocher you are really spoiling us!”

On a more serious note, Martin Fletcher from The Times, quotes an unnamed aid worker who says:

“It’s just appalling. It’s like they are either completely oblivious to what’s happening in their country, or completely impervious and just don’t care.”

I can hardly believe that Mugabe can still be oblivious to the suffering of his people, more likely it’s the latter: he simply doesn’t care. So Zimbabwe is worth a thought on February 21st – a  starving country seething as its decadent dictator dines in style.

Plankton To The Rescue!

Obama? A joker. Ethical Living? Pointless. So how are we going to save the world from climate chaos? The answer lies with plankton.

Yes, plankton. The tiny little grubs that whales feed on. It seems environmental scientists have started to get desperate. Either that or the nation’s journalists are resorting to desperate measures to stave off ‘green fatigue‘.

In a nutshell, boffins from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton have just completed an experiment in which they dumped iron filings in the South Seas to boost plankton levels. The little buggers are quite useful in taking in CO2 from the environment, something we sorely need. Whilst this may have worked, it fell short of the projected amount of CO2 taken in by a factor of 15 to 50 times. (Not sure how that can call themselves scientists and be that imprecise, but nevermind…)

This latest attempt to solve the environmental mess we’ve got ourselves into may be way off the mark, but it does raise for me an interesting issue. Plankton fertilisation is a prime example of geo-engineering. In plain English, the scientists have resorted to messing with the natural balance of things to correct the damage we have already done. Frank Pope at The Times opposes this by arguing that we are meddling with complex eco-systems that we don’t fully understand, but if we can’t use out ingenuity to solve this problem, then how else can we find a way out? It seems logical to put faith in our ability for innovation to ensure the survival of the human race, but if we shy away from experimenting in this way, then surely we are just conceding defeat? Dumping iron filings on plankton is essentially polluting to save the environment, and I’d like to see a Government give funding to that!