The Null Device

2007/4/2

Major recording label EMI has confirmed that it will sell its entire music catalogue in high-quality, DRM-free formats. In a joint announcement in London with Apple's Steve Jobs, EMI's CEO announced that the "premium" versions will be available on iTunes from May for 99p a track, with upgrades from previous downloads available for 15p; standard-quality, DRM-encumbered tracks will remain available for 79p. It is anticipated that the DRM-free downloads will become available on other services (presumably in MP3 or FLAC formats). Doing this, EMI becomes the first major label to join a slew of indie labels selling MP3s through services like EMusic.

Apple boss Steve Jobs shared the platform with Mr Nicoli and said: "This is the next big step forward in the digital music revolution - the movement to completely interoperable DRM-free music."
He added: "The right thing to do is to tear down walls that precluded interoperability by going DRM-free and that starts here today."
Other record companies would soon follow EMI's lead, predicted Mr Jobs.
Reports of Edgar Bronfman Jr. throwing a chair through the Warner Music boardroom window have not been confirmed.

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The Scottish parliamentary election is due in just over a month, and the Scottish Nationalist Party looks set to take the lead, with Labour being decimated:

Opinion polls show the SNP could take up to 51 of the 129 places in the devolved parliament, up from 25 seats at present, leaving Labour trailing with as few as 40 seats, losing 20% of its strength at Holyrood. That result would put the nationalists in a dominant position and the most likely party to form a ruling coalition with the Liberal Democrats, just before Gordon Brown, a Scottish MP, is expected to become prime minister in London.
A SNP-led government would make things interesting, as one of their policies is to hold a referendum on ending Scotland's union with England, a union which began 300 years ago. Could we see Scotland joining the EU as a separate nation, with a similar status to Ireland (outside of the Schengen treaty, but with no border controls with England)? If so, would an independent Scotland be likely to dump the pound for the euro?

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WIRED has an interesting article on research into extending the human sensory range by formatting the output of other sensors into formats the human nervous system can understand, and letting the flexibility of the human brain (or "neuroplasticity", as it's called) do the rest of the work:

It turns out that the tricky bit isn't the sensing. The world is full of gadgets that detect things humans cannot. The hard part is processing the input. Neuroscientists don't know enough about how the brain interprets data. The science of plugging things directly into the brain -- artificial retinas or cochlear implants -- remains primitive.
So here's the solution: Figure out how to change the sensory data you want -- the electromagnetic fields, the ultrasound, the infrared -- into something that the human brain is already wired to accept, like touch or sight. The brain, it turns out, is dramatically more flexible than anyone previously thought, as if we had unused sensory ports just waiting for the right plug-ins. Now it's time to build them.
And a few examples:
For six weird weeks in the fall of 2004, Udo Wächter had an unerring sense of direction. Every morning after he got out of the shower, Wächter, a sysadmin at the University of Osnabrück in Germany, put on a wide beige belt lined with 13 vibrating pads - the same weight-and-gear modules that make a cell phone judder. On the outside of the belt were a power supply and a sensor that detected Earth's magnetic field. Whichever buzzer was pointing north would go off. Constantly.
"It was slightly strange at first," Wächter says, "though on the bike, it was great." He started to become more aware of the peregrinations he had to make while trying to reach a destination. "I finally understood just how much roads actually wind," he says. He learned to deal with the stares he got in the library, his belt humming like a distant chain saw. Deep into the experiment, W├Ąchter says, "I suddenly realized that my perception had shifted. I had some kind of internal map of the city in my head. I could always find my way home. Eventually, I felt I couldn't get lost, even in a completely new place."

The downside to this is that withdrawal's a bitch; having gotten used to the sensory augmentation, one literally becomes disabled when it's taken away:

When the original feelSpace experiment ended, Wächter, the sysadmin who started dreaming in north, says he felt lost; like the people wearing the weird goggles in those Austrian experiments, his brain had remapped in expectation of the new input. "Sometimes I would even get a phantom buzzing." He bought himself a GPS unit, which today he glances at obsessively. One woman was so dizzy and disoriented for her first two post-feelSpace days that her colleagues wanted to send her home from work. "My living space shrank quickly," says König. "The world appeared smaller and more chaotic."
Another sensory augmentation technology described there involves using the tongue (a high-resolution array of sensors) to sense pixels in the form of voltages. This is sufficiently effective to allow blind (or blindfolded) people to "see" through an external input device wired to a mouthpiece:
With Arnoldussen behind me carrying the laptop, I walked around the Wicab offices. I managed to avoid most walls and desks, scanning my head from side to side slowly to give myself a wider field of view, like radar. Thinking back on it, I don't remember the feeling of the electrodes on my tongue at all during my walkabout. What I remember are pictures: high-contrast images of cubicle walls and office doors, as though I'd seen them with my eyes.

(via Mind Hacks) neurology science tech transhumanism 4