Some Favorite Podcasts, 2015 Edition

I admit I have a very uneven podcast listening habit. I work from home and travel rarely, so I don't have an opportunity to listen to much or a lot of new stuff. I can't listen to podcasts and do most of the kind of work I do, either (writing, editing, audio editing, and podcasting!). But then I'll wind up with a slough of appointments or slack time in the evenings, and catch up. I seem to prefer to binge listen to podcasts than binge watch TV series.

These are shows I think a lot of other geeky people or damned intellectuals will enjoy, not just with my niche interests and quirky tastes. (For instance, while I like listening to Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten, a weekday 10-minute podcast of German news spoken slowly and clearly to aid in learning (or re-learning), I doubt many will.)

  • Hello from the Magic Tavern. I'd heard about this for months, but I hadn't dipped my toes in, and I'm now I'm just obsessively listening to the dozens of episodes produced so far—it's hilarious and fascinating. Magic Tavern is podcast by a guy named Arnie (true) who fell through some kind of gateway to the magical land of Foon (not true?), from whence he podcasts in a tavern. It's an improv show combined with light scripting, so every week they build canon and remember it. So in episode 40, there will absolutely be a callback to something said in passing in Episode 1. It's really an extraordinary bit of mythmaking and incredibly funny.
  • Answer Me This: A podcast by Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann (with interjections from producer Martin the Sound Man, Helen's husband). They answer listener questions with humor, obscenity, and sometimes great moral reasoning. The show's been around since 2007 and is now fortnightly. Helen launched a great podcast in 2015 called The Allusionist, which does deep clever dives into the meanings of words.
  • The Flophouse Podcast: Three hosts, including the former head writer of the Daily Show, bring a mix of absurd intellectualism and intentional poop/sex humor to dissecting terrible movies. They watch a bad movie and then discuss it, and improv off into hilarious tangents.
  • Thrilling Adventure Hour: After a decade of continuous production of freshly scripted radio plays—performed and recorded live as readings—I only tuned in as it was going "off the air." The back catalog is enormous, and they promise more limited future additions to the canon. The live show was structured into segments, which typically appear as individual episodes. It's a combination of parody, homage, and truly original work.

(Of course, you should also tune into The Incomparable Network, which now has a huge array of shows about geeky and nerdy stuff, including our main podcast, a radio theater show, a rotating gameshow format, and much more.)

Updated Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network (and a Discounted Bundle!)

In collaboration with my good friends at TidBITS Publishing, we've updated my long-running ebook about making good use of Apple Wi-Fi equipment, from setting up a network to optimizing placement to troubleshooting problems. The book is now up to date for iOS 9 and El Capitan. It's $20, although you can get 30% off an entire cart by buying a bundle of three or more ebooks at once. (Previous owners should check their email or write to Take Control Books for a significant discount and special bundles.)

You can purchase Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network for $20. All Take Control books are DRM-free and a single purchase gets you three formats: PDF, EPUB, and Kindle-compatible MOBI.

But you can also get a bundle of that book and my self-published A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy & Security in iOS 9 from Take Control for 20% off ($7 off) by following this link, which includes the coupon. (Buy a total of three books, and you get 30% off the entire order—no coupon required.)

In the revision, we also added some new elements and updated others to reflect how people are using their networks with a greater number of platforms—like Android—and some features we never documented before, but the time was right to add:

  • I found two great tools for graphically mapping Wi-Fi networks and for visualizing a network environment—NetSpot and WiFi Explorer—so I added a run-through of each product. NetSpot helps you sort out network signal strength against a map of the physical layout. It's very cool, and comes in a limited personal version that's enough for most households. WiFi Explorer is a more sophisticated (but not expensive) program that you can use to sort out all the networks around you and better manage your own base stations as a result.

  • I’ve made several small revisions about 802.11ac waves. Previously, when I discussed the latest flavor of Wi-Fi, 802.11ac, it was as a single thing; however, the standard is being rolled out progressively in waves, each with new features. Apple’s two 802.11ac base stations and nearly all the adapters in Macs and iOS devices currently use wave 1. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus support wave 2, and more equipment that does is coming.

  • I added details about iOS 9’s new Wi-Fi Assist feature, which is enabled by default. Because this feature can burn through cellular data, iOS 9 users should keep it on only if they are aware of this risk.

  • I added steps for connecting to an Apple Wi-Fi network from Android (5, and steps are the same for 6), Windows 10, and Chrome OS. With so many mixed-platform networks, I hope this helps! There's also detail about file sharing and printing from Windows 10 via an Apple base station.

  • Because you may want to buy a base station without paying a premium for an Apple product—or you may want to try a different feature set than what Apple is currently offering—I added information about the TP-Link Archer C7 and Google's OnHub routers.

For those interested in buying a new router, I'll be writing an article soon for TidBITS with advice on that subject. I suggest waiting until March 2016 to see if Apple introduces updated Wi-Fi base stations, because the units are now falling far behind comparably priced or much cheaper units from other companies.

There's No Back in the Amazon Store, Only Front

I visited the Amazon Store today, its first permanent bricks-and-mortar rollout. The store falls under the purview of a former Amazon co-worker from back in the day who I admired very much. It's really a lovely place. It seems to have captured a lot of the charm of what Barnes & Noble used to be like, before they lost their way, with a very strong whiff of Seattle and a sense of appreciation of the book as a form. That, even with Kindles, Fires, an Echo, and much more centrally located and throughout the store. This is a book bookstore that happens to have some electronic gear and electronic aids.

Prices are omitted almost everywhere. I spotted a handful on electronics. Books have no prices on the shelf tags. There are omnipresent Kindles to look up the price, but it's odd to my eye that even though the books are heavily discounted off list, one has to look at the book to find the list price and then ask or look up the retail price in the store. It's inconvenient, but it bypasses having SKU (stock-keeping unit) tags on the books. (Having used Amazon for fulfillment of a book I published, they insist on every book being tagged, even though books have UPC codes on them.)

I couldn't put my finger on what it was about the store that seemed off until after I left. It was this:

The entire store feels like the front part of a bookstore. There is no back crammed with spine-out books and remainders and weird stuff—and even used books in various conditions.

The back of the bookstore is the Amazon ecommerce operation. Amazon is self-showrooming.

Amazon Store


Podcast, Podcast, Podcast! I'm Talking All over the Place

I had a spate of podcasts (some taped weeks ago) go up recently:

  • Clockwise #112: A 30-minute dash through four tech topics and one bonus question! I frighten everyone in this episode. (Yes, I am available to wash your dishes.)
  • Low Definition: Space Blobs: The Game Show podcast that's part of the Incomparable Network did a game that is absolutely not a popular word game in which you provide meanings to words. It was hilarious, and raccoons were not harmed, I swear. Seriously. Maybe squirrels, though.
  • Afoot: a mystery-genre podcast: I just launched this at the Incomparable. This was our introductory episode, and we'll be putting out new episodes every few weeks.
  • Doctor Who S9E8 review: “The Zygon Inversion”: A "flashcast" at the Incomparable, recorded just after watching the episode (with Jason Snell).
  • Love Blooms Naturally on a Vespa: A Rocket Surgery sub-podcast outing on the Incomparable in which we talk about Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster. You can also watch the movie at no cost, if you dare.
  • Every week, you can catch me on the Macworld podcast, too.

Happy Birthday, Dear Children: Once Again, to the Courts!

So in September, I wrote about the latest twist in the copyright ownership or existence in the lyrics for "Happy Birthday." Warner-Chappell had been the current and sole party alleging that it had license to the lyrics through a series of sales of same over the years. In a summary judgement, however, those rights were wiped away. A judge said that the evidence made it clear that there was no valid transfer of copyright in the 1930s from the Hill sisters to Summy Co., which was the ostensible owner. He walked through the potential that no valid copyright existed at all in the lyrics, but didn't formally issue a decision, because it was necessary.

At the time, this was trumpeted as the song finally being deemed in the public domain—but I argued while it was likely, it wasn't certain. That was because even should Warner-Chappell give up its fight (it hasn't) or lose on appeals, potentially all the way to the Supreme Court, there might be other valid parties extant who could establish a right. At which point, more litigation would be necessary to determine whether a) that party had a right in the work and b) the work had a valid copyright from around 1935. (Remember the musical tune was devised in the 1870s, copyrighted in the 1880s, and is clearly out of copyright for decades now.)

I wrote:

The only likely group that has standing to pursue legal action if they demanded royalties and didn't receive them is the charity that became the ultimate beneficiary of the Hills, the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI). It has received a third of royalties collected by Warner-Chappell for decades, or roughly $750,000 a year in recent years. Should ACEI choose to attempt to enforce rights, sue Warner-Chappell, or carry out any other action, it has just two bases on which it could proceed. (Diane Whitehead, the executive director of ACEI, says, "We are not commenting at this time.")

Well—the ACEI is pursuing this argument now. I was unable to determine (nor were other reporters) whether the Hill Foundation that ostensibly received one-third of the royalties of "Happy Birthday" still existed in some form. It had apparently passed its share to ACEI. But ACEI now says, rather late in this process (a suit to which it wasn't a party), that it received the full ownership of all the Hill Foundation copyrights in a bequest.

Jessica Hill had inherited from her sister Mildred's estate her share in the rights to various songs, and Patty (who created the songs with Mildred) had the remaining rights. The two created the Hill Foundation as the entity to own these rights. The ACEI, which Patty helped to found, received Patty's share on her death. The remaining half was bequeathed to a nephew, who, because he died without issue, had his share revert to the ACEI in full. 

Thus the mystery of the Hill Foundation is solved, if the chain of bequests can be documented. The ACEI would be the owner of any rights that the sisters failed to assign properly to Summy. The ACEI has been receiving its royalty share from preceding owners and then Warner-Chappell.

So if it is proven the rights weren't properly assigned to Summy, they reside with ACEI, which can sign them over again properly today, at which point they would remain in effect either until 2017 or 2030. (There is an issue as to whether the rights were properly renewed after 28 years, however; if Summy did so, it wasn't entitled to, and thus even if they existed in 1935, they would have expired by 1964.)

The rights would expire in 2017 if an unpublished manuscript of the lyrics were found, as they would be protected for 70 years following Patty Hill's death. (Only the original creators' deaths are counted for this purpose.) If the 1935 registration is found valid and the transfer of rights is not, then the rights persist until 2030 due to the vagaries of copyright law extensions.

The leading expert on the "Happy Birthday" copyright status, explained the issue about an unpublished manuscript back in September:

However, the Hill sisters in the 1940s lawsuit maintained that they had made a transfer of rights in 1935. These are the rights that the judge said didn't exist. That ruling could leave the unpublished rights active. But Brauneis says, "We don't know that Patty Smith Hill ever wrote anything down." No manuscript has ever been mentioned nor presented across multiple trials and 125 years. This also requires that the Hills never "abandoned" the rights, a complicated concept, but Brauneis says his reading of the judge's ruling is that King leaned toward that interpretation.

One outcome is that the judge lets ACEI join the suit and produces a new summary judgment in which he finds the registration invalid or the rights abandoned, or turns to the reliance on an unpublished manuscript which, as there's no proof of one existing, would ostensibly be dismissed as well. It could also go to trial and any of these conditions might be met. In all of those cases, the copyright was never valid, and there was no basis by any party to collect royalties.

The ACEI receives a significant portion of its income from these royalties, and thus is motivated to pursue the case. (Its filing is here.)

What this means, however, is that the issue of whether lyrics are clearly in the public domain for the purposes of companies who want to avoid being socked with a copyright lawsuit for unlicensed use has been punted forward, potentially for months to years.