Nostalgic Rumblings
The Ramblings of an Old Man

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More about the Sansa Fuze MP3 player

Filed under: Reviews and Impressions — Charlie Summers @ 10:53 pm

Just a heads-up that there have been comments and updates to our review of the Sandisk Sansa Fuze MP3 player. I just added there information on how a piece of software I found at a website in Japan dramatically increased the speed of the player’s database “refresh.” While still not quite enough to consider this player as a replacement for the XM Satellite Radio, it’s impressive enough to not only note but to recommend that software to anyone who uses SD/SDHC memory cards of any stripe.

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PODCAST: Burns and Allen, 09/20/45 with the Les Paul Trio

Filed under: Old-Time Radio — Charlie Summers @ 6:11 am

In an odd coincidence, last week on the Internet OTR Digest there was a discussion about the Les Paul Trio appearing on the Burns and Allen program; for a short time in 1945, they joined the Meredith Wilson Orchestra for musical numbers on the program.

I downloaded this episode of the show, which originally aired on September 20, 1945, many years ago from an unknown source. The sound quality is not terribly good and the show is a little hard on the ears, but it was the only episode with the Les Paul Trio I could find quickly. I will continue to look, not only in the digital realm but in my analog recordings to see if I can find something better - if I do, I’ll post it to the podcast. But in memory of Les Paul, who died at the age of 94, the Nostalgic Rumblings podcast presents this Burns and Allen episode, the first sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee, which includes the unmistakable sound of the Les Paul Trio playing, “Out of Nowhere.”

You may stream the show using the player below, or download it with the link. Remember, by subscribing to this blog with any podcasting client (Juice, iTunes, etc.) the shows will be automatically downloaded to your computer or MP3 player!

icon for podpress  George Burns and Gracie Allen - September 20, 1945 [32:27m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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Guitar, studio wizard Les Paul dies at 94

Filed under: Old-Time Radio, Television, News — Charlie Summers @ 12:53 pm

From CNN: Guitar, studio wizard Les Paul dies at 94

From the obit: “Les Paul, whose innovations with the electric guitar and studio technology made him one of the most important figures in recorded music, has died, according to a statement from his publicists. Paul was 94.”

From The New York Times: Les Paul, Guitar Innovator, Dies at 94

As I mentioned before, everyone has a Les Paul story, and here’s mine; A few years ago, Mr. Paul was a guest of the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention at one of the more…er…eclectic closing performances. He spoke for a bit, answered some pre-set questions, and accepted our applause. After the evening’s performances finally ended, I sought him out…I didn’t take anything for him to sign, I just wanted to thank him for taking the time out of his schedule to visit with us, and frankly I wanted to meet the guy, someone I’d appreciated for pretty much my entire lifetime, and particularly since I learned to play guitar after losing a finger on my left hand. I found him, and did so…while shaking his hand across a table, I held it for just a moment longer than customary (men know what I’m talking about), looked him in the eye and said, “I wonder if a lick will rub off?”

He got a huge grin on his face, grabbed my hand between both of his (they seemed so large to create such a delicate sound), rubbed it between them so I could feel friction heat, and with a soft laugh said, “I sure hope so!”

You can hear his interview with Bob Edwards from April, 2008 at the BobEdwards.Info website.

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Review: SanDisk Sansa Fuze

Filed under: Reviews and Impressions — Charlie Summers @ 5:57 pm

As I’ve mentioned before, I am (eventually) canceling my XM Satellite Radio, which means I need something for the car…something that can play music and downloaded podcasts, particularly news and talk shows like The Bob Edwards Show. I’ve already found the V-Touch VL-875 sorely lacking, so I stepped up, or over, to the Sandisk Sansa Fuze to see if that will fit the bill. Short answer…don’t think so, and I think you’ll agree with me in a little while…

First off, this is a great looking little player…I bought the 2G version on-sale to start, figuring I could easily upgrade to the 8G version later. Since the device has a microSDHC slot which will handle up to 16G, the on-board memory didn’t seem to be quite as important (although I was a little wrong there, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). Pulling this thing out of the way-too-much packing material was a challenge, but well worth it, since like I said, it’s really a pretty little machine. It’s about the size of a credit card, and while a bit thicker, not as much as you’d think. The screen is is a bit small for someone of my advanced years, but I think I can live with it. The thumbwheel is comfortable, although it takes a little bit of getting used to, and as I discovered the interface is a little inconsistent, making it more difficult to master than is really necessary.

But the first step is to charge the thing…dig out the proprietary charging cable (you knew that was coming), plug it into the Belkin powered hub and…uh-oh…the settings are such that it requires Windows Media Player 10 or higher, and I avoid putting that on any of my machines. What’s bothersome is that the device won’t charge if it’s connected to a computer and it doesn’t have a solid mount; an unnecessary complication, in my humble opinion. It was easily fixed by using what little battery power was in the device to fumble through the menus until I could find and change the USB setting to connect via MSC (like a flash drive) instead of via MTP (a Microsoft-created system to “manage” devices and make sure someone pays a commission on purchased DRM-laden music). Once that was accomplished, the device began to charge, since the “drives” could mount to the Explorer. Like I said, unnecessarily difficult just for an initial charge…I suppose I should have connected it to a standard USB charging brick, but there isn’t one included, and most folks aren’t like me and have a bunch sitting in their office, so I didn’t.

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AVG Even MORE Annoying?

Filed under: General — Charlie Summers @ 12:28 am

A while back, I posted about the free version of AVG being really annoying with its sales pitch, and commented about how I was no longer recommending it to my friends because of it. I also removed it from almost all the machines I control (the Mrs.’ laptop, the ancient tablet machine, etc.), but I did leave it on one I use mostly for burning discs, one that isn’t turned on more than a few times each week.

This machine started throwing up a really annoying advertisement - I mean, while the machine was burning a disc a large window appeared in the center of the screen advertising a “sale” on the commercial version. It didn’t even have a “Leave Me Alone” button, instead a “Remind me later” one - seriously, I don’t want to be reminded later.

So guess who is going to remove it from that machine?

Look, I understand these guys are trying to sell the commercial version, but throwing up a big advertisement window without warning is, in my opinion, just outta line. Of course, as I said last April, maybe I’m just being too sensitive…let me know in the comments if you’ve seen this sales pitch, and what you think about it as a “sales tool.” Also, feel free to let me know if you use a different freeware anti-virus, and how you like it.

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So I’m playing 24: The Game, and…

Filed under: General, Television — Charlie Summers @ 7:55 pm

…while playing as Chase Edmunds, I started getting yelled at by Madsen, one of the master bad guys. Now I’ve played 24: The Game hundreds of not thousands of times, but today, suddenly, I realized who owns the voice of Madsen - it’s Christian Kane, who plays Eliot in one of my favorite summer series, TNT’s Leverage.

Nothing earth-shattering here, just a pleasant realization that an actor whose work I enjoy every Wednesday night has been a companion longer than I realized. And I have to admit, I now feel the slightest pang of guilt when I dust Madsen’s *ss on that speedboat… ;)

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My patience is running low…

Filed under: General — Charlie Summers @ 2:56 am

This is a heads-up; the current discussions on the OTR Digest and the resultant personal email are really keeping me hopping…add to that the increasing number of funerals I’ve been attending lately, and my sometimes-desperate attempt to have a personal life, and there isn’t a whole lot of time right now for me to put up with a lot of nonsense.

So if you send email (which I continue to encourage, BTW), plan on it taking a little extra time to be read and dealt with. If you are making a comment on anything in the Digest to me personally (which I also encourage), please know I read all my email - if it doesn’t require a response, you may not get one right now, but I will read it, and I will carefully consider all comments. If you get a form email and it doesn’t answer your specific question, please feel free to ask for clarification, but I am sending out a boatload of form letters right now just because I’m pressed for time. I’m honestly not trying to ignore you when I send a form letter…but ten or fifteen people every week ask about how to change their email address, for example, so I run through the basics in a form mail. If the form mail isn’t clear (or I am harried enough to send out the wrong one!), please ask me for additional info, and give me an extra little while to get out the answer. Really, I’ll do anything I can to help.

If, on the other hand, you want to argue with me for the heck of it, or decide you’re so angry you need to yell at me (PROBABLY IN CAPITALS!!!!!) for someone else’s posting instead of reasonably commenting, or anything else I consider in my somewhat frazzled situation to be a waste of my time, now would be a really bad time, since my patience for such nonsense is currently exhausted. Wait a few weeks and I’ll be back to rolling with it and thanking you for calling me a know-nothing idiot, but right now I’m running a zero-tolerance policy for time-wasting.

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OTR to MP3 - What Bitrate Argument Returns (w/Podcast)

Filed under: Old-Time Radio — Charlie Summers @ 5:11 pm

On the Internet OTR Digest, there are some discussions that rear their ugly heads with depressing frequency. Like, Is OTR copyrighted? Was the Lone Ranger’s first name John? And the current argument, How high a bitrate is acceptable for OTR converted to MP3?

This one drives me crazy, since it’s so filled with confusion and personal biases that completely cloud the real issues involved. And like political or religious arguments, this one seems to bring out the absolute assurance in everyone - most within the argument make definitive claims they believe are absolute and irrefutable. And I admit, I get a little frustrated, since as listmaster of the Digest, I can’t get involved…if I do, some people will assume my opinion is some kind of “official” position of the list instead of my naturally-reasonable (and almost certainly correct… ;) opinion on the subject.

So why post here? Because this blog is designed to hold my personal opinions, and I’m pretty sure anyone who visits here doesn’t take my word for anything as an almighty dictate, but rather just the ramblings of an old man. So let me outline my view of this argument, why I think it’s one of the silliest arguments to even start, and why there really is no answer to the basic question.

But let me tackle some of the different aspects of the issue some people don’t understand, or in some cases even intentionally ignore. And let’s start with the whole nonsense that a specific bitrate can be compared to a specific analog system. Some people say 64kbps (or some other bitrate, these are just examples) is “AM Radio,” 128kbps is “FM Radio,” 256kbps is “CD-Quality,” etc. This is, and forgive me for being blunt, nonsense. No digital lossy compression scheme can be directly compared to an analog “compression” scheme…analog isn’t “compressed” the way we think of it in digital terms, it is more accurately “limited” in the frequencies it can transfer between the source and the target (your ears). This is a whole lot like comparing apples and oranges…lost frequencies cannot equate to lost digital information (which isn’t based on frequency, but rather on a mathematical assumption of “important” vs. “unimportant”), so getting into this is just plain useless, and gets in the road of the real discussion.

Now let’s talk preservation. Some people argue that these shows should be preserved in as high a bitrate as possible, which is also dead wrong. He, he…I can see you actually turning pale at the idea I would suggest preserving old-time radio at a low bitrate, but that isn’t what I’m saying…I’m saying that OTR should be preserved uncompressed. Kids, this isn’t rocket science, this is simple common sense…if you have the only copy of a lost episode of I Love a Mystery, it would be a bloody crime for you to encode it to any bitrate of MP3 while transcribing it, period. The show should be preserved as an uncompressed AIFF or WAV file - any digital compression on the only existing preservation copy should be grounds for a lengthy jail term. (And no, I refuse to get into the silly argument of 44kHz vs. 48kHz for the preservation copy, or even sillier 16-bits vs. 24-bits…I don’t know anyone who suggests any of these transcriptions have frequencies of 24kHz, so the CD format is just fine. If you want to waste the space for the extra 4kHz and 8-bits/sample on your own recordings, knock yourself out, but there sure as heck isn’t anything to argue about here.)

But that doesn’t suggest that listening copies have to be uncompressed CDs. That is, if I have the only surviving copy of that ILAM episode, and give you a copy to listen to, I can give you any bitrate I want. Your options are to either listen to what I supply to you, or be a snob, demand 320kbps, and be told to stick it in your ear. Seriously, I can’t understand why anyone would turn their nose up at a low-bandwidth listening copy. Assuming the encoding has been done with care, a 32kbps copy from good source material sounds just fine. Perfect? Of course not, but absolutely listenable.

And let’s talk about the thousands of crappy-sounding OTR MP3s wandering around the Internet. Everyone seems to blame the bitrate, when that really isn’t the problem. The problem is a bunch of kids who collected 18-generation cassette copies of shows they never listened to and only collected to say they “had the most” encoded those things while they were downloading pr0n and playing games on underpowered computers with bootleg MP3 encoders.

Go ahead…read that last paragraph again. I want to make sure you understand exactly how I feel about this. Most of the crap MP3s out there aren’t lousy because of the bitrate, they are lousy because of the source material and the encoding mechanics. Those who demand only high-bitrate MP3 files don’t want to hear or accept that, but it’s true nevertheless. You don’t need 320kbps to have a decent listening experience…heck, many people reading this listen to Sirius or XM’s RadioClassics channel, and that’s got to be running about 12kbps (considering the music channels are assumed to be under 30kbps after the most recent round of bandwidth-cutting, and RC is running much lower than that), and they don’t seem to mind. (Me, I don’t listen because I can’t stand the editing to insert contemporary commercials, and I’m not particularly excited about the host, either. But that’s a different rant.)

The ones I love are the ones that were originally encoded as lousy RealAudio files, which are later transcoded to high-bandwidth MP3s to “improve” them. What a joke…once information is removed in a lossy compression scheme, you can’t put it back so transcoding is only going to remove more signal, not make it better. And just as in analog recordings of the past, no equalizing is going to make it sound better.

And then there’s noise-reduction. Some people without a clue are determined to remove every bit of noise, using free apps like Audacity instead of high-end and expensive applications like No-Noise. It does more damage to the sound quality than if you’d leave it alone - talk about adding unnecessary artifacts! If you aren’t going to use high-quality (and expensive) software, touch the material as little as possible to reduce some of the tape hiss perhaps. But every time some heavy-handed “restorationist” uses Audacity to remove pops-and-clicks, it destroys whatever is there.

Let me give you an example. A while back on this podcast, I posted an episode of Cecil and Sally provided to me by Fred Berney. Naturally, someone took my 32kbps file, “cleaned” it (probably by converting to WAV file and running it through open-source noise-reduction software), then re-encoded it to 96kbps and posted it on the newsgroups as an “improvement.” Of course, the only thing that person could accomplish without having access to the source file (which was/is on CD) is remove more information, making it sound worse, not better. This is why we have so much garbage sound out there…people who either don’t give a rat’s patoots about the sound quality in the first place, or people who are foolish enough to think they can “improve” a low-bandwidth file by transcoding to a higher bandwidth.

(It’s also why I always hesitate before posting anything relatively rare, even though many of the “heavy hitters” in the hobby have been very generous to me over the years. Between people screwing around with the copies I provide, and the scum who immediately sell it on a certain auction site, there are a bunch of us who are negatively-motivated to share some of the lesser-heard programs in our collection.)

Look, I’m not saying we should go out of our way to screw up the audio. What I am saying is that we should lighten up a little on the whole “demanding high-bandwidth MP3s to listen to” thing…if the audio is listenable and fun at 32kbps, what the heck is wrong with that? At the bottom of this rant is one of the shows from the Haendiges collection in 32kbps encoding, done with attention to the 44-22kHz conversion and low-pass filters. I hope you’ll listen to it and enjoy the show instead of cranking it up to find the digital artifacts existent in the file, but if you want to demand 96kbps or whatever, well, no one is forcing you to listen. (Jerry, of course, maintains a 44kHz 16-bit digital copy, and probably the original analog source as well, so the show is properly “preserved,” thank you very much. And if you don’t trust Jerry to preserve it, buy a copy from him in CD format and retain it yourself…preservation problem solved, and the rest of us can have guilt-free fun listening to this copy of the show.)

I received from Jerry Haendiges, of The Vintage Radio Place a large collection of programs, with the suggestion I “broadcast” some of them here on the blog…thing is, many of the programs he sent I’d never heard, and some I’ve never heard of, even as long as I’ve been in the hobby. So for the foreseeable future I’m going to run the shows he sent in low-bandwidth MP3 format - even at 32kbps mono, these shows are some of the best-sounding shows you’ll hear. But remember for even better sound, these shows (and a few bazillion others) may be purchased from Jerry in either audio CD format, or ultra-high-quality MP3 format.

This program, from May 9, 1944, is an episode of the Columbia Workshop, which for a period of 26 weeks was taken over by Norman Corwin under the title, “Columbia Presents Corwin.” This episode is the first of a trilogy about cities and towns; written, produced, and directed by Corwin, of course.

You may stream the show using the player below, or download it with the link. Remember, by subscribing to this blog with any podcasting client (Juice, iTunes, etc.) the shows will be automatically downloaded to your computer or MP3 player!

icon for podpress  The Columbia Workshop; May 9, 1944 [32:12m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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