Modern Times

Now there’s an ironic title. Shades of Charlie Chaplin for sure run throughout this post, so much so I have no problem declaring Fair Use for displaying this still, which I downloaded from Wikipedia to emphasise this story. All rights remain reserved with whoever owns those rights, despite the still being 70 years old….


There I was, relaxing after lunch, sun shining, birds chirping, Jeeves-and-Wooster time. I’d bought the latest Bob Dylan album, Modern Times, admittedly in the dinosaur way (hard physical CD from bricks-and-mortar HMV high street store), and I thought I would import it into my iTunes while listening to it. After all, it was Sunday afternoon.

Fat chance.

It took a long time, much longer than usual, for the iTunes/GraceNotes CDDB stuff to happen, some strange noises but finally it did. Then I started the importing. First track went fine. Then everything died on me. Not a kernel panic, but Not Responding and Spinning Disc and requiring quite some effort before I could Force Quit iTunes in order to eject the CD. And even then I couldn’t eject the CD at first. But finally I succeeded.

I tried again. But no luck, the Mac refused to recognise the CD any more. Kept ejecting it.

So I thought “CD problem”. Went and tried playing it on my Bose. 10 tracks recognised, all playable. Tried playing it on my Sony Vaio, 10 tracks recognised, all playable on Windows Media Player. Tried ripping the tracks using Media Player, also all fine.

So the problem was not with the CD but with something in the DRM space between the CD and iTunes. Specifically between the CD and iTunes. [Please bear in mind that even my worst enemies wouldn’t accuse me of being pro-Microsoft anti-Apple. I like iTunes, I like Apple, I like the Mac, I like the iPod, even if I am frustrated by the DRM. I live with it in the hope that the DRM will disappear, in the belief that the DRM exists because of the music industry and not Apple per se, and that the problem cannot continue for more than a couple of years].

Anyway, I was getting ever so slightly irked by all this.

So I checked if Boing Boing had anything on it, Cory and gang are usually pretty sharp when it comes to DRM idiocies. And sure enough I found this story: Bob Dylan and iTunes sell un-rippable music; update: Cory has placed an amended story now, which you can see here.
I read it, and moved from there to Kim Cameron’s Identity Blog. And, even though I go there often for research on Identity, for once I was motivated to comment.

For which I needed a login. Which I didn’t have, so I sought to get one. Nowhere to get one, or at least nowhere I could see without installing missing plug-ins I wasn’t allowed to install. Smelt like the Microsoft-v-Apple nonsense. I use Firefox on an Intel MacBook running OSX.

So I thought I’d use an InfoCard, the alternative route suggested. How do I get one? I read the blurb. And tried to “click on the movie below to see how Infocards work”. Nothing to click. No movie playing. The Microsoft-v-Apple smell got stronger.

No login. No way to get a login. No ability to comment therefore.

So I gave up and made myself a cup of tea.

And wrote this post.

Modern Times, indeed. People, we’re in for a bellyful of laughs at this rate.

Or a linux-based DRM-free ecosystem for all this.

20 thoughts on “Modern Times”

  1. There seem to be three options.

    1. The CD has no DRM, but iTunes is consulting an online list of “banned CDs” and refusing to let you copy it.

    2. The CD has DRM, but it’s only effective on Macs, not Windows.

    3. The CD has a minor defect that interacts unfortunately with your Apple hardware.

    But none of these options seems terribly plausible. Or is (1) a well-known feature of iTunes I’m unaware of?

  2. It may be iTunes and the CD, rather than Mac. I didn’t try reading or ripping it on iTunes on the PC….

    but something is wrong.

  3. I have no idea what is causing your problem importing your CD, but I am somewhat confused by the Boing Boing story you link to. I don’t know what any other music source is offering, but is offering Modern Times as a 2 disc set advertised this way:

    (Deluxe Edition) [CD + bonus DVD]
    Only $18.98 (17% off)

    They list the tracks this way:

    CDAudio (Audio)

    1. Thunder On The Mountain
    2. Spirit On The Water
    3. Rollin’ and Tumblin’
    4. When The Deal Goes Down
    5. Someday Baby
    6. Workingman’s Blues #2
    7. Beyond The Horizon
    8. Nettie Moore
    9. The Levee’s Gonna Break
    10. Ain’t Talkin’

    DVD Video(Video)
    1. Blood In My Eyes
    2. Love Sick
    3. Things Have Changed
    4. Cold Irons Bound

    iTunes is offering the same thing as 10 songs, 4 videos, 1 booklet for $13.99

    I think Apple is still offering everything under the same terms is always has. If there is a problem with the physical CD or DVD through Sony, seems the people to contact is Sony.

  4. I assumed it was that other unspeakable thing, differences in digital products in different regions. My CD has exactly 10 tracks as you say, bought in the UK. I haven’t looked at what Amazon US show in their CD and DVD deal, but the Boing Boing story is based around that.

  5. The strange thing about the Boing Boing story is that they claim that “The CD version of “Modern Times” comes as a 14-track disc that includes the audio of the four iTunes videos; also included with the CD is a DVD carrying the four videos.” Yet at the Amazon site the CD only version doesn’t say how many audio tracks are on the CD. One reviewer there talks about the “10 tracks” so I am thinking it only has 10 tracks. The video being available only on the two disc set. Can you confirm whether Boing Boing’s claims are accurate? They don’t seem to have a comments section. Aren’t these guys the same ones that have been hyping Microsoft’s PR releases for their Zune player? Something fishy over there.

    Otherwise, I hope you get your iTunes importing problem resolved! Please post if you figure it out…


  6. We are all looking for those bolts to adjust so that the machine of world consciousness works as we think it ought to. But the wheels keep turning and although you are close to the final bolt to tighten it is a fine question of timing to get there.

    Inspired by one of he many scenes in Modern Times that made a lasting impression on me.

  7. In the real world, a product with DRM is indistinguishable from a flaky product.

    Users don’t read dialogs. This isn’t the user’s fault at all. Most dialogs are unhelpful enough to condition users to ignore them.

    Users don’t understand the restrictions dictated by DRM systems. This isn’t the user’s fault at all. DRM systems implement restrictions that don’t make sense within the user’s idea of what is “fair” or “unfair” to do with copyrighted material, and every DRM system does those restrictions differently, and some DRM systems change over time. (Users don’t even understand copyright law, which is uniform and slow-changing–how can they be expected to learn the rules of DRM systems?)

    Users who don’t want to read “Working DRM or bug?” articles on Boing Boing are just going to react to DRM restrictions by reducing their opinion of the quality level of the products and/or services involved.

  8. I’m also confused as to what Cory’s “find” has to do with a CD being hard to import. Cory is complaining that you can’t rip the audio off of video purchases in iTunes, not that things won’t import. I’m not sure what would be causing to not be able to import Modern Times, but I greatly doubt it’s on the intention of iTunes.

    Don’t get me wrong – I think you have a valid complaint. I just don’t think there is a massive DRM conspiracy surrounding it.

  9. Hi JP, I was remembering you this morning – a propos your recent reference to Orwell, and also pertaining to PG Wodehouse. So your Bertie Wooster ref. is synchronicity! Have you read Orwell’s defence of Wodehouse (re. his supposed support of Fascists! ); this is at:
    You also mentioned Chaplin’s “Modern Times”. I wanted to share with you something from Chaplin’s autobiography that has stayed with me (since I first read it almost 30 years ago). There is a photo in the book, with the caption “About to build a set with not an idea in my head” (or something like that). I have shared that predicament, as I’m sure every creative professional would have. Once I was commissioned to contribute text for a photo exhibition (by a bureaucratic overseas govt. body). Finally this commission was cancelled (and I received half the fee). One of the reasons was that (I suspect) during a meeting about the project, when asked about the exhibition I said we would work hard on this, as a team, and through that creative process something good will result, but at the moment I had no idea what exactly this would be like; and I referred to the Chaplin image. The boss was quite aghast!
    The image you used (“Modern Times”): I shall show this now to my boys, as I’ve often told them I wanted to give them a chair in which they could sit permanently and watch TV, and perform all their bodily functions, and keep consuming Crisps and cola.
    Have a nice day! :-) Best, chutki

  10. This is in response to Josh. I too don’t think too much about conspiracies. What I worry about is a series of unintended consequences of ill-thought-out attempts to implement DRM. The only element that could be shown as conspiracy is incompetence.

  11. Well, no offense … it’s just that you have no evidence that your bug is related to DRM at all. Boing Boing doesn’t prove the CD has DRM … in fact if anything they suggest the packaged copy is the “fan friendly” version that you should get if you want to have “control” of everything.

    And the “DRM” Cory is railing on about is related to videos, not music, and is mandated by the DCCA. Apple is simply implenting their license. Basically Cory is annoyed that he can’t rip audio off of a video track (which no music player lets you do anyay).

    Back to Carlos’ analysis, which seems accurate, #3 seems the most likely … but in a sec I’ll offer a fourth. Most DRM implementations don’t try and crash the application or the operating system. I’ve had the the same issue with iTunes freaking out and the OS X refusing to acknowledge the disc, causing me to reboot to get the darn thing out. But that’s generally been because of a poorly burned DVD ( I can’t remember the format … but one will choke it every time).

    Still, the behavior suggests an error deeper than DRM.

    The problem may not be between your CD and iTunes … but could very well be between your CD drive and the CD. The CD itself may be fine, but if the drive is starting to go – any minor imperfection might start throwing it off. Try inserting the disc and playing the files off of Quicktime instead of iTunes.

    If you can burn them from Windows, you might try burning the MP3’s to a data disc and porting them over that way. Or even another audio disc might work.

  12. Thanks Josh, I will try the QuickTime as a way of validating the drive. As you state, the video aspect is separate. I guess I was suspicious about the apparent misbehaviour of the CD given the digital download story, and it is possible that these are unconnected. Most of the time I fall for the Walk Like a Duck Talk Like a Duck approach.

  13. I think that Lars has touched on the most important metaphor in Chaplin’s film. It is not that we are looking for the bolts to adjust but that some of those bolts have to be adjusted on the turning wheels! (Remember what happens to Chaplin’s character after he gets on the big–moving–gear to adjust one of its bolts!)

    Unfortunately, now that our applications are being “served” through the Web, rather than installed in our own personal computing environments, we are discovering that monitoring and adjusting those bolts is becoming a major problem. My own blog entry of July 29 argues that current training for the IT industry has not yet come to grips with this problem:

    The bottom line is that the distance between the annoyance of importing songs from your new CD to iTunes and the far greater annoyance of your bank’s online service going “off the air” when you wanted to use it to pay your bills is not that great. I am glad that there are resources like Boing Boing that can help out with the former problem. The latter problem can probably only be resolved by engaging with your bank; and, for most banks, that is getting harder and harder to do these days!

  14. Cory has updated his story, so it now looks like the CD was always 10 audio tracks and nothing more. I have not yet resolved my problem.

  15. JP – re Kim Cameron’s blog: he is actually using the blog login to allow people to test infocard, which you can try if you are using a strange combination of beta components ex Vista in the Windows world, OR a Firefox plugin from (which is what I use to login to Kim’s blog) – in order to set it up you need to play with it a little (and taking a bit of time to read up on Infocards is useful too), but if you are interested pick up the plugin here:

  16. Thanks Ric, will do. I was being lazy. When the plugin wasn’t found “naturally” I gave up. I do follow Kim’s blog, but get frustrated when anything assumes I have Microsoft and Office and and and. If I had a dollar for every .exe or .zip I have been futilely presented with….

  17. JP – Kim has a perception problem because he works for Microsoft – and I’ve told him that it’s a hurdle he’ll have to work hard to leap. That said, he is extremely keen for people to understand that the infocard idea is NOT just for MS prisoners … the Higgins projects has picked it up as well, which is a good thing. I think infocard is a useful step on our mutually-observed identity path.

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