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powers i have recently acquired

January 26, 2004

A few years ago I had a daydream that one day I would be a walking sampler, able to capture anything I saw or any sound I heard and preserve it in some crisp, permanent form forever. I realised the other day that I’m now at least part of the way there. On my arrival in Tokyo I bought a small digital camera which I now carry with me at virtually all times, and whose photos decorate this page. It’s small and silver, and takes very good pictures with a minimum of effort and the bag I always carry with me has a pocket that is just the right size for it. This means that, given enough time to take my camera out of my bag and turn it on, I can catch anything I see and store it in the form of five million lush, crisply-coloured little pixels.

If I don’t have time to take out the camera and turn it on, my japanese mobile phone is always in my pocket and always on, and can also take photos and films. They’re much worse quality than my camera, but they’re ok, and the ability to immediately email them to anyone makes me feel like a time traveller in possession of a technology that there’s no way I could explain to the authorities if they ever caught me.

The third and last device I carry with me I bought in Osaka. It’s a tiny, silent black case, with a glowing blue screen, into which I can place 20 gigabytes of the world for safekeeping. It’s the same sort of thing as one of these ‘iPods’ that seem to be all the rage these days – in that it has a headphone-socket, and the main use thing it’s intended for is to be used as a 21st century walkman. However, it’s better than an iPod, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has a built-in microphone, which takes me another step towards being a human sampler: I can now, at any time, start recording and – if I feel like it – continue recording until the moon falls out of the sky. Power Extreme! Secondly, it plays music in “Ogg Vorbis” format.

“Ogg” is an alternative to mp3, and it is better for two reasons – firstly, it sounds much better than mp3. I don’t know anything about the technologies involved, but I find that mp3s sound funny, and slightly unpleasant, to me, whereas I am really pressed to hear any difference between an ogg file and the original cd, even though the ogg file is the same size as an mp3. The second reason why Ogg is better than mp3 is political: mp3 is a patented technology, whereas Ogg is developed by the Xiph Foundation, who are a non-profit corporation whose aim is to protect “the foundations of Internet multimedia from control by private interests”, by providing patent-free alternatives to things like mp3. Personally, I think that is a very, very good idea, so I would probably have still gone for an ogg player even if it didn’t also sound better than mp3.

Finally, another thing that counts as a plus for me is that my Pod thing is one of the few of it’s type that isn’t made by an American corporation. It’s made by a Korean company called iRiver. This means that in buying it I didn’t do anything to help the economy of a country that seems to me, under its present government at least, to be a pretty large threat to any kind of positive future for the world…

Apart from wanting to be a human sampler, a big part of why I bought the thing was because I’ve been really missing both my walkman and my dictaphone – before I got the iRiver thing, I could only listen to music in my house (I bought my predecessor’s hi-fi off him), but listening to music while you do the washing-up is not the same as listening to music while walking the mean, rain-drenched streets like some kind of private eye. But now I realise that on my small island I almost never walk further than about one song’s length (I live about five minutes away from school). Piss.

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