Fish Nation Information Station

News from the world of music, entertainment, communications, and technology.

NEWS ARCHIVE 2003 JULY TO DECEMBER

The Season for Music

Chicago's Christmas album, called, of course, XXV, has been repackaged by Rhino Records. For the reissue, the band recorded six more songs, including “Winter Wonderland.” Chicago: http://www.chicagotheband.com.

XV Tull Bah

Jethro Tull's “Ring Out Solstice Bells” has long been one of the favorite rock songs for the Christmas season, and now the band has a complete Christmas album. The Jethro Tull Christmas Album features “Ring Out Solstice Bells,” several new songs, and Baroque-influenced renditions of some traditional Christmas tunes. The traditional influences and Ian Anderson's flute playing create an album that compares to Jethro Tull's 1970s sound. Jethro Tull: http://www.j-tull.com.

Bah & the Humbugs reached countless new fans with their new comedy album Another Christmas Ruined, which featured the musical story Jolly Roger, the Christmas Pirate. The band spent the month of December in Soundclick's charts, reaching #9 on the General Comedy chart with “Genetically Modified Gingerbread Man” and at #35 on the Rock General chart with “The First Snowflake.” The chart positions improved after Bah & the Humbugs' Humbug Day (December 21) concert at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia. The band also launched a new web site: http://www.bahandthehumbugs.com.

Many artists made Christmas songs available for download on their web sites. Two worth noting are Boston (http://www.bandboston.com) and Sophie B. Hawkins (http://www.sophiebhawkins.com).

2003-12-23

For Bah & the Humbugs, a Pirate Ship of Their Own

Christmas comedy rock band Bah & the Humbugs are set to release a two-part album for the coming holiday season. The first half-hour of Another Christmas Ruined introduces several new songs from the band; the second is the musical story of Jolly Roger, the Christmas Pirate, written by keyboardist Paul Nordquist.

Genetic engineering is a theme in the new album, starting with the singable opening track, “Genetically Modified Gingerbread Man,” which will have you too singing, “Run, run, run as fast as you can.” “The First Snowflake” offers a wall-of-sound production for the excitement of waiting for the big snowstorm. “Get Me to the Stable on Time” is a Texas-sized tale of the Three Kings and their hilariously disjointed ramble to the manger to visit the 12-day-old baby Jesus.

Jolly Roger, the Christmas Pirate is the story of a pirate who loses a bet with Santa and has to deliver all of Santa’s Christmas presents, in the process rescuing Santa from his pattern of overwork. It’s the kind of timely Christmas story you might expect from South Park, and it’s delivered with a similar kind of humor.

Bah & the Humbugs: http://www.bahandthehumbugs.com

2003-12-01

Apple’s Early Panther Delivers New Features

A week before Halloween, Apple was crowing about the ahead-of-schedule release of their new operating system version, Mac OS X 10.3, dubbed Panther. With so many interesting new features, it’s understandable that Apple might have been so eager to release Panther, perhaps slightly before it was ready.

In our tests, Fish Nation found it entirely too easy to crash some of the utility applications included with the new OS, especially Preview. Among other flaws, Preview crashes when it receives two simultaneous requests to open truncated JPG files — and since this is the most common file defect on the Internet, this error scenario is not at all an unlikely situation. Other apps crashed in similar fashion, and the OS at times mistakenly launched old versions of the apps, which also tended to crash.

But a few application crashes are little more than an annoyance in this mostly very stable operating system. It takes only a second to relaunch the application, and Panther includes a bug-capture system that allows you to report crashes to Apple’s engineering team over an Internet connection.

The impressive new features in Panther include Xcode, an integrated development environment so slick that you can expect tens of thousands of new applications from developers and hobbyists; improved support for full-screen applications, such as games and presentations; the ability to read and edit Microsoft Word documents; an impressive font-management utility; and substantially better junk-mail filtering.

Apple has already released one bug-fix update for Panther, and Fish Nation recommends that most users wait for the second such update, expected in December, before upgrading to Panther.

2003-12-01

Styx, Cyclorama

It was the blue-collar Styx who showed up at guitarist Tommy Shaw's house to record Cyclorama. The resulting album is not completely without the whimsy and flights of fancy that make Styx so fascinating, but those ideas take on a decidedly pragmatic approach, as one song puts it, “in search of true enlightenment for ten percent cheaper.”

John Waite and other stars from the neighborhood also showed and can be heard on the album giving it something of a party feeling. The performance sparkles and recording at home didn’t introduce any compromises in the production. The songs are witty and sometimes memorable. Unfortunately, without any “gotcha” moments on the album, most Styx fans won’t even find out that Cyclorama is out there.

2003-12-01

Notes

Phone companies are prepared for big changes in the U.S. telephone market now that ordinary telephone numbers are now portable. Telephone customers can switch between carriers, even between a cellular carrier and local land-line carrier, without changing their telephone numbers.

Unicode is a standard character set that is supposed to help us make sure we can read each other’s electronic documents. To make that work, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is starting to encourage web developers to use standard IANA names to identify the character sets they use and no longer recognizes other variations on those names. As an example, the W3C won’t recognize “ASCII-US” as an approximation of US-ASCII, but it does recognizes “ASCII” because that alias is on IANA's list. In principle, standardizing character set names should make it easier for web browsers to correctly display web page text.

Diebold, the voting-machine company whose devices provided one of the many controversies of the recent California election, is in legal trouble for misusing the notice provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Hoping to cover up some of its questionable conduct, Diebold sent notices to ISPs claiming copyright ownership of comments about Diebold and demanding the removal from web pages of text of and links to specific documents. However, a federal court forced them to retract the notices after the fraud was pointed out, and some of the companies and groups they threatened to sue are now seeking damages under the misrepresentation provisions of the DMCA. On top of that, a member of Congress is calling for a formal investigation of Diebold's actions. Diebold voting machines are controversial because the company refuses to document their operation. Critics say the secrecy makes it impossible to assess security risks involving the machines.

2003-12-01

Saw Doctors Prep Live Album and Video

Irish rock band the Saw Doctors are readying their first live album and video for release in February. The band had initially hoped to have an earlier release date, but postponed it to ensure that their first live album would not get lost in the Christmas shuffle.

The album and video, both called Live in Galway, showcase a single concert recorded last July 30 at the Black Box in Galway. The DVD video includes an hour of the concert along with a one-hour tour documentary that follows the band from Brooklyn to Mayo. The audio CD release has over 70 minutes of music from the concert.

The Saw Doctors are spending the month of December touring Britain, ending the month with a few shows in Ireland.

Saw Doctors: http://www.sawdoctors.com

2003-11-01

Two Bad Ideas in Home Electronics

Responding to Gateway's success selling televisions and home entertainment electronics, Dell has announced its intention to dominate the home entertainment electronics market in the near future. Dell says it’s betting the future of the company on this strategy, perhaps thinking anything would be better than the thin profit margins of the computer business. Dell says consumers will be surprised by their prices, but industry analysts don’t think the leading business computer maker has a way to reach consumers with their products.

Hoping to buck the trend toward computers, Sony says the television will be the center of home entertainment in the future. Sony has a narrow window of opportunity, probably less than five years, to promote its TV-home vision. That’s because as flat screens get thinner and lighter, manufacturers will find it necessary to separate the video screen from the television receiver, a change that will mean the end of the television as we know it. Years ago, Sony had a dominant position in entertainment electronics. It invented the compact disk and the Walkman, among other things. But its market position has eroded over the years, and it no longer has a leading position in any major electronics product category.

2003-11-01

Notes

Shania Twain's new concert DVD, described as a live version of her Up! album, will be released on November 12.

Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman is playing clubs and theaters on his current solo tour of the U.S.

Bah & the Humbugs are readying a new album that features more than an hour of new Christmas music. The album, which might be titled Another Christmas Ruined, will include the short operetta Jolly Roger, the Christmas Pirate, with the dramatic roles played by the band members.

Apple Computer’s rollout of its iTunes Music Store to Windows users turned out to be just as big as the music download store’s initial Mac-only opening. The store’s servers were slow at periods because of the heavy volume of downloads. Apple also had hits in October with its new operating system version, Panther, and its new iBook G4, a faster version of its low-end notebook computer.

2003-11-01

C Notes

3 new releases by artists filed under the letter C

Alice Cooper, The Eyes of Alice Cooper

The post-adolescent turmoil that is Alice Cooper isn’t ready to give way to a stable, responsible adult approach to life any time soon, at least not if this latest set is any indication. The clock never runs out on the combustible combination of rebellion and indecision in “Between High School and Old School,” because the search for relevance in life has no easy answers. A few minutes later, “Novocaine” doesn’t sound like the name of a hit, but it easily could be; it’s a wacky, infectious song about not feeling it anymore, coming from the same retro-modern groove where bands like Matchbox 20 and the Wallflowers have found hits in recent years.

There are still hints of heavy metal, but the sound is lighter and tighter than on Alice’s 1990's records, and that might help this record reach more listeners. Two other songs will help with specific audiences: the driving song “Detroit City” for Detroit, and “The Song That Didn’t Rhyme,” a failure-meets-success story, for people in the music business.

Cheap Trick, Special One

Several years after the collapse of their last record label, Cheap Trick have picked up where they left off. Or nearly so — they've dropped the aggressive bare-bones sound of their last two albums to return to the cheerful, giddy studio experimentation that made their 1980s albums so colorful. This is most obvious on “Hummer,” an off-kilter dance tune that features, of course, lots of humming.

Cheap Trick seem perhaps a little less hyper with this set of songs. Life is tricky and people do things you can’t explain, but it’s not the end of the world.

The CD includes a bonus DVD-Video that offers a perfectly good half hour of music video. It’s one of several CD releases this year with bonus DVDs — a sign, perhaps, of how upside-down the music distribution system has become.

Conspiracy, The Unknown

If it seems surprising to get a second album from Conspiracy, look at it this way: they were just getting the kinks worked out on that first album, and this album shows the distinctive, mature band sound that resulted from that effort. Billy Sherwood and Chris Squire spearheaded the sound of the Yes album Open Your Eyes, and with Conspiracy, they've taken that musical approach to the next level, with hooks more pointed and soundscapes more sweeping.

The addition of drummer Jay Schellen helps provide the sheen that you would expect from a Billy Sherwood production. At the same time, both Billy and Chris have become stronger singers, making The Unknown a more engaging album than you might expect.

2003-10-18

Tech Turmoil Points to Cultural Upheaval

September’s technology and business headlines showed a level of turmoil not seen in years. These are some of the stories, each one of which might be a major story in Fish Nation in a normal month (with our apologies for oversimplifying them here):

What’s going on? This is more than just a series of unrelated arguments and a posse of busy lawyers. There are fundamental cultural values being tested in every one of these stories. In the middle of all this cultural confusion, many other things are sure to be changing.

2003-10-01

Notes

Deaths: Johnny Cash, singer, after a short illness. A country legend known as the Man in Black, Cash spanned the gulf between early rock ’n’ roll and country in his songs about gritty working life. . . . Robert Palmer, singer. A 1980s icon, Palmer trailblazed a clean-cut and slick style. His most famous songs were “Addicted to Love,” “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On,” and “Simply Irresistable.” . . . Terome “T-Bone” Hannon, bassist for Jewel, of a stroke. Jewel's fall tour is cancelled.

Al Franken's book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right remains at the #1 position on some book charts more than a month after its release. The book gained publicity when FoxNews sued Franken, claiming ownership of the phrase “fair and balanced,” even though a judge quickly dismissed the key elements of the suit.

The Who have announced plans to record a new studio album next year. The songs will be based on a story Pete Townshend recently wrote, “The Boy Who Heard Music.”

IBM is showing low-power processors that it says could make portable phone batteries last more than twice as long.

2003-10-01

Lighting Crash Halts Justified/Stripped Tour

Even the biggest pop stars can’t step out under the lights if the lighting rig is down on the stage. That was the situation on August 9 when the summer’s biggest dance-pop tour, the Justified and Stripped tour starring Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake, was temporarily halted when its lighting rig fell down.

The accident happened during the afternoon setup for a concert scheduled for that night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The lighting rig buckled, then collapsed onto the stage, sending the stage crew scrambling for safety. No one was seriously injured, but the collapse caused around $1 million in damage to the tour’s lighting equipment and also damaged video and audio equipment. The venue’s ceiling grid was also damaged in the accident, and the subsequent investigation has focused on the possibility of a structural flaw in the ceiling. A similar collapse occurred at the hall three years ago.

Loudspeakers are typically the heaviest thing to be suspended on a music tour, but they were not on the grid that collapsed.

Three weeks of concert dates on the tour had to be rescheduled as the tour’s contractors made repairs and assembled replacement equipment. Boardwalk Hall was locked down as government officials investigated the collapse of the ceiling grid.

Representatives of the music acts involved in the tour said it was fortunate that there were no casualties from the rigging's collapse. At press time, most of the affected shows had been rescheduled.

2003-09-01

Coldplay Win Big at MTV Video Music Awards

English rock band Coldplay were the biggest winners at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. They won three awards, but more importantly, they added to their steadily growing reputation in the United States. Coldplay was awarded Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video, and Best Direction for their song “The Scientist,” which they also performed during the show.

Justin Timberlake also won three VMAs. His hit “Cry Me A River” was tops in the male, pop, and dance categories. Missy Elliott, who had been nominated 17 times in the past without winning, won two awards for “Work It,” including Video of the Year. Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” and 50 Cent’s “In da Club” also won two awards apiece.

In the opening sequence, Madonna raised eyebrows when she kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera during their reworking of her hit “Like a Virgin.” It was at the first MTV Video Music Awards that Madonna became a superstar with her remarkable staging of that song. The three singers also sang together on Madonna’s newest single, “Hollywood.” The show ended with a set by Metallica which included an instrumental medley of some of the highlights of the 20 years of VMAs.

The biggest surprise of the evening was the sight of Duran Duran, who spoke before the show of plans for a new album this fall. During the show, the band was surprised with a lifetime achievement award. Duran Duran's last album, an untitled album dubbed the “wedding album” by fans because of its cover art, was released ten years ago.

2003-09-01

Sued By FoxNews, Al Franken Has Bestseller

Satirist Al Franken's August book release Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right gained a tremendous publicity boost when FoxNews sued to stop publication of the book. The right-wing cable news channel claimed ownership of the phrase “fair and balanced,” but a judge dismissed their trademark claims on the widely used phrase, and FoxNews withdrew their suit days later.

In his book, Franken demolishes the myth of liberal bias in the media, showing that corporate-owned media have a sharply conservative slant compared to the general public.

2003-09-01

Notes

AOL Time Warner may be dropping “AOL” from their corporate name. The media conglomerate has been debating for more than a year what to do with their struggling Internet access division. AOL says more cost-cutting can return it to profitability within a year, but some executives and analysts have suggested shutting down AOL, eliminating many of its services, or dramatically raising its already high subscriber fees.

A new government report blames NASA's management communication style for the shuttle disaster earlier this year and warns that more disasters are certain unless changes are made. According to the report, the ruthlessly optimistic style of NASA management does not allow important problems to be discussed openly at the space agency.

The 12-digit bar codes that identify manufactured products sold in the U.S. will shortly be expanding to 14 digits. The 12-digit U.P.C. (Universal Product Code) system is combining with the 13-digit EAN (European Article Number) system used for books and for products manufactured in Europe to form the GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) system, which will also allow for 14-digit codes. Trade groups are urging retailers to upgrade their bar-code scanners to the new GTIN standards before 2005. Retailers that fail to do so, they say, may find themselves unable to scan most new products.

Elton John's reissue of his 1979 single “Are You Ready for Love” debuted at #1 on the U.K. singles chart. It is his first #1 since “Candle in the Wind ’97.”

2003-09-01

Concert for Toronto Draws 450,000

To bolster its faltering tourism industry, Toronto set out to hold the largest one-day rock concert ever on July 30, and the event sold out, with at least 450,000 people attending. The concert raised money for Toronto's efforts in fighting its SARS epidemic, which has killed 42 people in the city so far and kept tourists away for most of the spring.

The headline act was the Rolling Stones, returning to Toronto for their fourth concert on their current tour. Justin Timberlake, who had a short set of his own early in the day, joined the band for the Stones song “Miss You.” Justin had to dodge water bottles and other garbage thrown by a few members of the audience.

Other performers at the show included Rush, AC/DC, the Flaming Lips, and Jann Arden, who opened the show with the Canadian national anthem. The Guess Who made a rare appearance that included both Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.

The concert occupied a square-mile section of Downsview Park. The enormous gathering had its share of the mishaps that seem to accompany such events. Most notably, the plan to pipe in water failed, and organizers had to give away millions of bottles of water. Around 2,500 people were treated in first aid tents and at the festival's medical center. There were 21 arrests for what police called “scuffles,” a remarkably small number for such a large event. No one was arrested for throwing garbage at Justin Timberlake.

For some fans, the concert was proof that Toronto has recovered from its SARS doldrums. For others, it was just an excuse to drink beer and smoke pot. Meanwhile, Toronto's tourism officials hoped the event dramatized that it is now safe for tourists to come back to Toronto. A few tourists did come to the concert, from places like Maine, Buffalo, and Hamilton.

2003-08-01

Pop-Up Thunderstorms Without Pop-Up Advertisements

People who want to find authoritative U.S. weather information without having to wait for advertisements have a new option. A national weather map, local forecasts, and weather radar are just a few seconds way at the National Weather Service home page, http://www.weather.gov.

You can select local weather by ZIP code or city and state, and there are other links for national maps, national and regional weather radar, and other information.

The Weather Channel's web site, http://www.weather.com, has long been considered the leading weather web site, but its popularity has plummeted in the last two years under the weight of advertisements. A typical visit to weather.com to view local weather involves a wait of more than five minutes as dozens of advertisements load first. The Accu-Weather site, http://www.accu-weather.com, is faster, but also uses pop-up ads. The National Weather Service site is a government service with no advertisements at all.

2003-08-01

Notes

The recent Pixar movie release Finding Nemo is not just the biggest animated feature of the year. It will pass Toy Story early this month to become one of the top 5 animated features of all time. The story of a fish adventure is helped by a summer of relatively few major movie releases combined with increased movie attendance as people travel less. The summer economy is boosting ticket sales for live music too.

This fall, Volkswagen is giving drives one more reason to buy a Beetle. For a limited time, the cars are coming with an Apple iPod music player as standard equipment. Of course, the iPod isn’t exactly built into the car. It fits in the center cup holder and attaches to the stereo through a cassette adapter.

Death: Bob Hope died July 27 of tuberculosis. He was 100. Among Hope’s prolific work in comedy and movies, he was known as the master of the one-liner, the star of a series of road movies around the 1960s, and an entertainer to U.S. troops in most of the wars of the 20th century.

2003-08-01

Harry Potter, Hillary Clinton: Hot Book Releases

The two biggest book releases of the year probably happened in June. The Harry Potter phenomenon continued its growth with the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Two weeks earlier, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoir was a huge hit on its release.

Author J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series about the difficult life of a boy wizard has sold around 200 million copies over the past decade. The fifth book sold 2 million on the day of its release in its home country of the United Kingdom, making it the fastest-selling book in U.K. history. It was also eagerly received in the United States, where it sold 5 million copies on the day of its release.

Sen. Clinton's book Living History sold 200,000 copies on its release day and 600,000 in its first week, making it one of the fastest-selling political books of all time and probably the biggest U.S. nonfiction release of the year.

2003-07-01

Do Not Call Web Site

A new U.S. government web site is designed to protect consumers from unwanted commercial telephone calls. The Do Not Call site at http://www.donotcall.gov started registering phone numbers on June 27. Businesses face stiff fines if they place commercial calls to numbers on the Do Not Call list — potentially $11,000 per violation.

Government leaders and industry experts expect about half of all U.S. home and cellular telephone numbers to be registered with the site. The proportion, however, could increase as telemarketers make more calls than ever to consumers who are not on the list.

Registering all those phone numbers, though, could take some time. The Do Not Call web site currently can handle only about a million registrations per day, and it has been slowed in the early going by heavy volume and e-mail filter problems. At the current rate, it could take months before everyone who wants to register their phone numbers has a chance to do so.

Based on telemarketing industry estimates, the new Do Not Call law could eliminate as many as 50 billion commercial telephone calls per year. The economic effect of so much time wasted is a significant drag on the economy, so the time saved by eliminating those calls could help stimulate the economy during the current recessionary period. Then, in the long run, moving an estimated 2 million telemarketing workers to more productive areas of work could provide an additional economic boost.

Many states already have Do Not Call lists of their own, but those lists have little effect — telemarketers can safely ignore them just by making sure they place calls from one state to another. The federal Do Not Call list, though, is one that telemarketers will not be able to ignore.

2003-07-01

Jewel, 0304

It is as if Jewel came offstage at the end of her last tour and asked, “Why isn’t anyone dancing?” Jewel's new album 0304 shows a dramatic change in musical style from the coffeehouse folk rock of her previous albums to dance pop that she says is inspired by the ideals of the big band era.

It is startling too to hear Jewel pointedly imitating seemingly every female star of dance pop of the last five years. Listen to the opening of the leadoff single “Intuition” and you would guess you are listen to a Shakira record — and that’s just the beginning. Elsewhere, you might think you are hearing snippets of Madonna, Christina, Britney, Celine, and a dozen others.

But don’t worry — Jewel has not lost her way as an artist. The music of 0304 rings true. It’s a fun, sexy album that will make you get up and dance — and that, I am sure, is exactly what the artist intended. The dance pop genre isn’t as limiting as folk rock, so Jewel gets to stretch out on her new album in a way that she never could before. And she’s clearly enjoying herself. There were hints of retiring when Jewel released This Way two years ago, but now she sounds like she’s just getting started.

2003-07-01

Notes

Recording under the name Conspiracy, Billy Sherwood and Chris Squire have released a second album, The Unknown.

Apple Computer introduced its G5 desktop computers, which will start shipping in August. The new computers will briefly be the fastest personal computers available. At the same time, Apple has released the first official version of its Safari web browser. Microsoft, saying it can’t compete with Safari, has stopped development of its Internet Explorer browser application.

2003-07-01

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