We're From the Government. We're Here to Help.
While on the subject of chemists and acronyms, Derek Lowe has a post about journal acronyms, or how to pretend to be a research chemist. (Yes, it's Lagniappe Week here at Uncertain Principles...). Similar things happen in physics, though there are slightly fewer journals to keep track of. All the Physical Review journals get shortened to "Phys Rev" whatever (e.g. "Phys Rev A" or "Phys Rev Letters"), or sometimes just letters ("Pee Are Aye" or "Pee Are Ell"). The only thing I look at with any regularity (and that's not much) that gets pronounced as words is the Journal of the Optical Society of America B (JOSA B), which gets pronounced something like "Joe's a bee."
Most of the stupid acronyms in physics come in as people try to find names for new devices or processes that can be used to spell words. These range from the entirely reasonable (MOT for "Magneto-Optical Trap) to the slightly strained (STIRAP for "STImulated Raman Adiabatic Passage") to the faintly ridiculous (ROBOT and UBOAT for "ROtating Beam Optical Trap" and "Ultra-Blue Optical Atom Trap"), to the cringe-worthy (the "ROBOT" concept was dubbed "RoDiO" (pronounced "rodeo") by another group, for "Rotating Dipole Optical" trap) . Eric Cornell has used this as a joke, referring to his Time Orbiting Potential (TOP) trap as "Part of the larger set of Cute Acronym Traps, or CATs."
Of course the reigning champion in the production of dippy acronyms is the federal government, where they occasionally reshuffle agency names, for no real better reason than to make the acronyms better. Hence, the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) became the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) (though it remains the "Bureau of Standards" to about 80% of the population of suburban Maryland...).
The best silly government acronym story involves the collaboration between NIST and the University of Colorado in Boulder. For many years, this was called the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, or "JILA," generally pronounced as a word (or a hesitant naming: "Jill, uh..."). Eventually, it was pointed out that they really didn't do any astrophysics, let alone astrophysics in the laboratory, so the name was pretty inaccurate. So a decision was made to change the name to: JILA. It's the same name everyone was already using, but officially, it no longer stands for anything. I guess they wanted to save the money they would've spent on printing new stationary...
(No, I really don't have much of a point, here. But it passes the time while I wait for someone to call me back...)
It's Funny 'Cause It's True
Back in my undergrad days, there was a faculty colloquium given by a physical chemist, who started his talk by defining what, exactly, a physics chemist does: "A physicist is a scientist who builds an apparatus, buys a sample, and then does an experiment. A chemist is a scientist who buys an apparatus, makes a sample, and then does an experiment. A physical chemist is a person who builds an apparatus, makes a sample, and then does an experiment."
OK, it's not side-splittingly funny, but I was reminded of it yesterday when we got another batch of student chemistry talks at lunch. I'm used to physics talks, where the first few minutes are spent giving a schematic of the apparatus, explaining how it works, and how it was put together. Chemistry talks, on the other hand, tend to have statements like "We did fluorescence measurements using an HP 8675309 Quantum-o-rama Fluorometer," followed by five minutes of mind-numbing (to a physicist) reaction diagrams and acronyms ("We titrated this with a 7 micro-molar solution of methyl-ethyl-iso-butyl-fluoro-ketamine (MEBUFUK), mixed with PDQDDT, and did a HARVEY assay to see that we'd produced..."). I can't really recall a physics talk where the speaker just gave the manufacturer and model number for the apparatus, without explaining what it did.
It's not that there's anything wrong with that-- when you're sticking together as many atoms as chemists deal with, you need to describe the arrangement in some detail; when you're a physicist working with single atoms (or maybe diatomic molecules), if you could buy an apparatus to do the experiment, it wouldn't be worth publishing-- but it's an amusing cultural difference between the fields.
(As for the original joke, the obvious question is "What do you call a person who buys an apparatus, and buys a sample, and does the experiment?" The flip answer is "An engineer.")
Highway Driving Tips
Just a bit of friendly advice to the person four cars ahead of me on the NYS Thruway this morning: When you're driving a minivan, and pull out into the far left lane to, say, pass a line of four or five large trucks, pass the goddamn trucks. I don't care if your preferred highway speed is 67 mph, and they're doing 66 mph-- take the governor off, give it some gas, and pass the goddamn trucks. That way the people behind you don't have to cruise along for five miles with a four-ton load of gravel eight inches from their right window and small rocks pinging off the windshield, let alone have to squeeze between lumbering highway behemoths to avoid missing their exit. The truckers will also thank you, as they won't need to worry about a long chain of passenger cars riding in their capacious blind spots. You can slow down again once you're past the goddamn trucks, and back in the right lane where you belong.
Thank you for your cooperation.
(Oh, yeah, I'm happy to have a highway commute again...)
More Science Stuff
While I'm talking about science stuff, I'll note that Douglas Turnbull of The Beauty of Gray has a nice essay on how science works (via Shadow of the Hegemon, who made the original comment that led to the essay).
I'll also mention a couple of science news web logs, by David Harris and Timothy Paustian. They don't provide a lot of detail, and tend to cite original research articles which may not be accessible to many readers (due to a combination of opaque writing and subscription-only web sites), but they highlight a lot of interesting new stuff as it comes out. They'll get added to the links bar the next time I get around to updating my template.
Shut Up and Calculate, Already
It's been a while now since I talked about science stuff, mostly because there hasn't been any news that I felt strongly enough about to put in the effort to write long posts about. There's been a very recent up-tick in the number of interesting science stories out there, most notably this Australian report (and what's gotten into the Aussies, anyway?) that the speed of light may be changing on cosmological time scales, which I'll get around to once I find a less garbled description of it than the Yahoo story, and get some time to think about it. (Irritatingly, the paper in question was published in Nature, whose obnoxious subscription policy makes it impossible for me to get an on-line copy of the actual paper, and forces me to-- shock! horror! walk to the library to find a physical copy of the article...)
There is a good jumping-off point for some science stuff that doesn't require me to drag my fat ass out of my office, though, as Derek Lowe's been reading Feynman and asks a number of questions about the nature of scientific knowledge, specifically quantum mechanics. Sadly, the easiest of these ("Why does a p-orbital take six electrons?") has already been answered, though I would've phrased the answer a bit differently (it's basically an issue of nomenclature-- what chemists call a "p-orbital" is really three atomic states with essentially the same energy (you're not too far wrong if you think of them as orbitals aligned along the x, y, and z-axes), each of which gets two electrons. Likewise, a "d-orbital" is five states, an "f-orbital" seven, and so on... The distinction between these states doesn't matter all that much for chemistry, but it's the stuff careers in atomic physics are made of.), leaving the difficult philosophical questions behind ("Why is angular momentum quantized in the first place?").
I haven't actually read the Feynman book in question (The Character of Physical Law), though it's on the vague list of "books I really ought to read one of these days." These philosophical and meta-physical questions also aren't the sort of thing I spend a lot of time thinking about (I subscribe to the "Shut Up and Calculate" interpretation of quantum mechanics), for the simple reason that you very quickly start banging your head against the wall. The questions are always there, though, and as Derek notes, at bottom, they all come down to "the peculiar effectiveness of mathematics." We live in a Universe that behaves (or at least appears to behave) according to very simple and elegant mathematical rules, and it's not clear why that should be.
At the level of physics where I work, there are a handful of rock-solid mathematical principles that everything else comes out of:
- Conservation of Energy: Energy is neither created nor destroyed, but only changed from one form into another. Thanks to Einstein, we can lump mass in here as well, mass and energy being interchangeable. At the end of the day, when you total up all the mass and energy you've got in whatever system you're working on, you have the same total energy you did when you started the experiment.
- Conservation of Momentum: In the absence of an external force, the total momentum of a system remains constant, though it can be redistributed among the bodies in the system. Newton's famous Laws of Motion are, in a certain sense, just a statement of the law of conservation of momentum.
- Conservation of Angular Momentum: Angular momentum, like linear momentum, remains constant unless something from outside the system acts to change it. Conservation of angular momentum is the oddest of the lot, in many ways-- it's what gives rise to the odd properties of gyroscopes, and the question about orbitals above.
Depending on how interested you are in the enumeration of rules, you can add several other rules to this list (the Second Law of Thermodynamics probably belongs, and high-energy physicists probably consider a few other conservation laws), or you can re-cast them in more formal terms (conservation of momentum is a consequence of the translational invariance of space (the structure of space-time doesn't change if you move in a straight line), conservation of angular momentum is a consequence of the rotational invariance of space), and you can even find violations of those rules on very short time scales for very small objects. You can also hand-wave your way from microscopic to microscopic versions of the rules (the angular momentum of macroscopic things is conserved, and that property has to arise from some properties of the original atoms) or vice versa (angular momentum is conserved in atoms, and thus is still conserved when you stick a whole bunch of atoms together). In the end, though, all of that just amounts to pushing the pieces of a puzzle around on the table-- you can shuffle them around all you like, but eventually, you still need to make them fit together. You're still stuck with a Universe that runs off a handful of simple mathematical rules, and you're no closer to understanding the ultimate origin of those rules.
The trivial and unhelpful answer is to invoke the Anthropic Principle in one of its many forms, which basically amounts to saying "If the Universe didn't work the way it does, we wouldn't be here to ask that question, so it doesn't matter" It's a useful way of pushing the question off, and getting it out of the way to allow yourself the room to get some work done. I suspect that, consciously or not, most scientists have a point at which they invoke the Anthropic Principle or something like it-- without it we'd get stuck on these questions forever, and all end up gibbering quietly in corners, with caring family members making sure we don't get hold of sharp objects or graph paper.
Unfortunately, I haven't heard any better answer to the fundamental question of why the Universe behaves the way it does. There's no obvious reason why the Universe has to behave in a mathematically regular way-- scientists find it very satisfying that it does (to the point that some categories of string theorists use mathematical elegance as a standard of proof), but there are other groups of people who would be happier to think that it's all Divine Providence, or invisible pink unicorns pushing objects around with their horns. There's no obvious reason why mathematical rules should work to describe the behavior of the Universe, but they do work, and they work astonishingly well. It provides a real sense of awe and wonder if you think about it a bit (though you'll go crazy if you think about it too much).
I mention this stuff to my intro classes, in passing, when I run down the conservation laws at the heart of mechanics. Mostly, I get glassy stares in response, probably the same reaction I'm getting out there in blogland. And, on some level, this really isn't material for science classes, being more the province of philosophers, or late-night dorm-room bull sessions. But it is stuff that scientists have to think about, on one level or another, and impulse to ask these questions springs from the same source that drives most of us into science in the first place.
This having been kicked off by Feynman, I should wrap it up with Feynman, in this case a famous footnote from the Feynman Lectures (by way of James Gleick's Genius):
Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars- mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination- stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million- year-old light. A vast pattern, of which I am a part.... What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not hurt the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it.
He's talking about astrophysics there, but the same basic sentiment applies to Quantum Mechanics, and even down to the most basic level of "why does the Universe follow mathematical rules?" We're not really close to the ultimate TRVTH, if such a thing even exists, but the truth we do know is marvelous indeed.
Great Moments in Fuzzy Math
More from Blogcritics, this time regarding their interview with Cary Sherman of the RIAA.
Mr. Sherman writes:
Furthermore, we've been studying this for awhile (no surprise there). In a study we'll be releasing soon conducted by Peter Hart Research Associates for us, we learned that -- by more than two to one- those who say they are downloading more say they are purchasing less. To be fair, some said they were purchasing more. But only 19% said they purchased more, while 41% said they purchased less.
It sounds impressive, but it's a classic attempt to befuddle the public with statistics. 19% plus 41% is only 60%, and having covered "purchasing more" and "purchasing less," the only options left for the missing 40% are "purchasing about the same number of CD's" or "don't know/ no answer."
40% would be an awful lot of "no answer" responses, so at least some of those are probably "about the same." If it's half "about the same" and half "no answer," well, then, we have what statisticians would call "a wash" -- 41% purchasing less, 39% purchasing about the same amount of music, if not more. If you put all those people into the "about the same" category, an arguably more accurate spin on these numbers would be that 59% of people surveyed bought at least as much music after file-sharing as before.
Now, 41% is still much larger than 19%, so it's reasonable to believe that there's been a net reduction in sales, but that's not necessarily true. If those 41% halved their music buying, and the 19% doubled it, it would basically be a wash. If the 19% doubled their purchasing, and the 41% reduced their spending by a third, it'd be a net gain. Without knowing what they actually asked, and the relative sizes of the increases and decreases, it's impossible to say whether file-sharing is really decreasing sales. Sherman's initial citation of this study is the sort of dodgy use of statistics that should raise a red flag for anyone who can do math.
The right thing to do here would be to use this study as a starting point, and use it to craft a sensible approach to file-sharing technology. The RIAA should go back and find out what the factors are that put a person into the 41% who buy fewer CD's as a result of file-sharing. Is it the price of CD's? Personal finances? Information-wants-to-be-free zealotry? A general distaste for the current state of pop music? Then they could try to figure out how to push some of that 41% back into the other 59%. What price would they have to charge for a download, and what features would they have to offer to get the average file-sharer to buy a legitimate copy, rather than downloading an illicit one? Is there a way to put together a system for distributing singles on CD that isn't a complete joke?
That's how a scientist would approach the problem-- figure out what's really going on, and then find a solution which takes the facts into account. Unfortunately, the RIAA isn't looking into this in order to find the truth, they're looking into it to find justification for a policy they've already decided on. They're not interested in trying to find the right answer to the problem, they're interested in using statistics as a weapon to beat back opposition to their favored policies.
This practice is hardly confined to the RIAA, of course. It's a large part of my general distaste for the way American politics is conducted these days-- nobody looks for truth in statistics, only justification. So we've got Greenpeace claiming that the world is ending, and John Lott claiming that guns are the answer to everything, and if either of those analyses crossed my desk in a paper to referee, there'd be red flags and alarm bells all over the place.
(It's fascinating to see what's acceptable in other fields, in terms of mangled statistics and data analysis. Bob Park does a fantastic talk about statistical chicanery in epidemiology, and Brad DeLong posted some graphs about monetary policy matters a little while back, and mentioned various supposedly prominent features that I looked at and said "Huh. Nothing but noise." Happily, DeLong's point was basically that those weren't useful measures of anything, confirming my impression that he's a smart guy...)
Various critics in the "blogosphere" will no doubt take this as evidence that I'm one of those pointy-headed academic types who wants nothing more than to keep doing more studies, and never reach any conclusions. (Well, actually, they'll just never read this, but if they noticed me, that's what they'd say...) Maybe. I am an academic, after all, and more drawn to curiosity-drive research than anything productive. But then, "this needs more study" isn't necessarily a stall tactic-- sometimes more study, and sensible study, is exactly what a problem needs.
What we're getting, though, is one slanted poll after another, conducted and presented by people who know the solution they want to apply, and will massage the data until it supports their position. And, quite frankly, I think inaction through endless studying would be an improvement over policy-making driven by statistical shell games that serve only to prove Disraeli right.
(The initial paragraphs of this were posted, in a slightyl different form, in the Blogcritics comments thread following the Sherman interview.)
Great Moments in Music Criticism
It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads even a moderate number of weblogs that Blogcritics, the brainchild of Eric Olsen of Tres Producers is up and running. The basic idea, as I understand it, is to get a bunch of bloggers together to take free promotional CD's, and write reviews of them on the Web.
It's a brilliant idea, in principle, and I almost signed up for the project myself (I didn't because I've got a bit too much on my plate already to commit to writing music reviews as well as book log posts, web log posts, and lecture notes for the upcoming term...). I applaud the idea, and hope it works out well in practice.
The one catch here is that taste in music, like taste in literature, is a very idiosyncratic thing. A song or a book that one person loves may strike another person as utter dreck. For example, I just put comments on The Big Sleep up on my book log. I think it's a wonderful book, and have spent the last couple of years trying to find some other author who punches the same buttons Chandler does, with little success. Other people reading it, though, might well be appalled at the sexual politics of the book (the tone of the narration is very sexist, and some nasty remarks are made about homosexuals), and be put off from the whole thing. There's no accounting for taste, and all that.
This makes criticism, in literature or music, a difficult business, for both the critic and the consumer. The critic needs to find a way to get across what it is about the book or record that he likes, while the consumer needs to figure out how the critic's tastes compare to his own (it needn't be an exact match-- some people I know regard Gerald Jonas's SF reviews for the New York Times as very useful, because they know that if Jonas likes a book, they'll hate it, and vice versa). It's not enough for the critic to throw in a comparison to some classic album-- London Calling, say-- because it's not necessarily clear what they mean when they make that comparison-- are the lyrics similar? The melodies? The politics?
The only real way to make reviews a useful tool is for a critic to establish a track record with the consumer. If you read enough reviews by a given critic, and compare their impression of the book or record to your own, you start to develop some idea of the predictive value of those reviews. It's sort of a slow-motion version of the associational database trick used by groups like AlexLit (they've branched out into e-book publishing, but they started with just the "recommender").
That's one of the reasons I continue to subscribe to Rolling Stone. Yeah, fine, it jumped the shark a while back, as a magazine, but I've read it for long enough that their reviews are useful to me. Based on what Peter Travers says about a movie, I can make a pretty good guess as to whether I'll like it or not. Their album reviews are a little dicier, as they're written by lots of different people, but they're not a bad guide for me. I'm not saying that I'll buy anything they give four stars to, but the combination of their rating and the things they say about the record gives me a fairly reasonable idea of what I'll think of the actual album. The most consistently accurate reviews I've found, for me, are those on The Onion's AV Club, which also benefit from being more sharply written than those in more mainstream magazines, but again, that's been established over a few years of reading and comparing their reactions with mine.
Which brings us around to the problem with Blogcritics (which, I hasten to add, I think is a brilliant idea)-- what we've got here is an assemblage of a hundred random people writing about music, each from their own perspective. It's a great idea, but it's not really a useful tool, yet. It'll take a good while before it becomes truly useful, as we, the readers, will need to see a bunch of reviews from the various critics before we can really judge whether Ken Layne liking an album will mean that I will like the same album, or my wife will like it, or whoever.
A humble suggestion, then, or at least as humble a suggestion as you're likely to get from anyone arrogant enough to run a web log: The process could maybe be sped up a bit by getting the various blogcritics to provide some sort of reference point from which to judge their tastes. Something like a Ten Favorite Albums list (at the risk of sliding into High Fidelity territory), with a few sentences (say, 75 words or less) saying what they like about each album. Then provide a link to that list from the blogcritics site, either at the end of the reviews, or off the front page, so that when, say, Brian Linse says an album reminds him of London Calling, we can get an idea of what, exactly, he means by that.
Anyway, I applaud the launch of the site, and hope it works out well. Check it out, if you haven't already.
As I Was Saying...
Well, I'm back. Sort of. The Big Move is basically complete, Internet access in the new apartment has been established (though I'm writing this from work), and I can resume blogging. As usual, all sorts of things have come up and been hashed out-- weblogs run on a faster time scale than even Usenet-- so I've got a wide variety of topics to choose from, none of which anyone cares about any more.
So, for lack of a deep interest in pseudonymous blogging (I've spent enough years answering to nicknames that I really don't give a rat's ass what anyone chooses to call themselves online-- a real name would be nice, but it's not like I'm going to look them up and check...), I'll resume babbling about the music industry.
Last Friday (circa 1978 in blog time), Glenn Reynolds quoted Arnold Kling taking issue with Janis Ian's prescription for the music industry (which is a follow-up to her (highly recommended) earlier comments):
I think that her solutions will not work, because the problem with the music industry is much deeper. I think that the problem is that CD's are obsolete, and the music industry is trying to use the legal system to crush more efficient means for storing and distributing music. I believe that you cannot use a web site as a loss-leader for CD's, because CD's are an expensive storage medium compared to hard disks. You cannot charge 25 cents per download, because that would add up to overly expensive charges to the people who download most frequently.
His Instapunditness comes down on the side of CD's, saying:
At the same time, though I get a lot of my music online, from independent artists who make it available for free, I still buy a lot of CDs. And I'm not thrilled with the idea of hard drives as the main residence of music: that kind of storage is too impermanent. I have CDs from almost 20 years ago. My mom has Louis Armstrong records from the 1920s, long before she was born. Who's going to have MP3s of the Tumblin' Sneakers song The Secret World of Charles Kuralt in 50 years? (Media junkies -- you must listen to this song, which is a hoot).
Maybe I'm wrong about that, but when I really like music, I want hardcopy, not just hard- drive copy. Perhaps there will be a technological fix. In the meantime, CDs have actually gotten pretty damned cheap -- until you factor in the markup needed to pay for record execs' cocaine and fancy cars.
I'm not sure I buy the permanence argument-- CD's are more durable than vinyl, yes, but a format is really only "permanent" if it remains popular enough to support players. CD players are plentiful at the moment, but then it was easy to find a record turntable fifteen years ago, and that's no longer trivial. And let's not even mention 8-track tapes... Should some other storage format catch on ("This here's going to replace CD's in a couple of years. Means I'll have to buy the White Album again."), those CD's could be as useless as 5-1/4" floppy disks are today.
Which is not to say that I disagree with the Instadude-- I'm not happy with the idea of getting rid of CD's, either, but I get to that position from a different direction. One of the few things I like about the current music distribution scheme, and fear will be lost if file-swapping really takes over, is the idea of getting an album of songs, rather than just a collection of singles.
As a true music junkie can tell you (and as Jim Henley's line-by-line, song-by-song coverage of the new Springsteen album may end up showing), there's more to a really great album than just a collection of songs that happened to be recorded at about the same time. When an album is put together the right way, all the songs fit into something that's greater than the sum of the individual songs. I'm not necessarily talking about the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sort of concept album (anyway, Abbey Road is a better album)-- sometimes, that works, sometimes it's self-indulgent crap-- but in a really good album, all the pieces fit, maybe not into a grand edifice of rock opera, but into a coherent whole. The songs all sound good together and even minor filler pieces work better in the context of the record as a whole. If you heard "Buckets of Rain" off Blood On the Tracks by itself, you wouldn't think much of it, but put together with the rest of the album, it sounds great, and brings the record to a fitting close. The same is true of something like the sinister instrumental "Brother Woodrow/ Closing Prayer" off Gentlemen-- it's a decent enough tune, but takes on a greater meaning because of the songs that come before. It's even true of silly fluff like "Les Boys" off Making Movies, or the oddball fragments like "Kicker of Elves" (memorable mostly for the title) off Bee Thousand-- the albums around those songs are good enough to lift up less memorable material.
This is why original albums, even with the occasional dud track thrown in, tend to be better than "Greatest Hits" packages-- if the artist and producer are doing their jobs right, there's more to the album than the singles. And, indeed, sometimes the best songs on a record are the album tracks, not the singles. The best tracks on Some Other Sucker's Parade don't even make it into the review, let alone the "Best Of" album. Ditto Big Red Letter Day.
These two factors-- the cumulative effect of a well-put-together album, and the possibility of finding hidden gems in album tracks-- are the real reasons I buy CD's. If I just wanted the singles, I could download them, but I like the idea of getting a bunch of songs that the artist thinks ought to go together. I bought Full Moon Fever to get "Free Fallin'" and "Yer So Bad," but the fact that it comes with "Zombie Zoo" and "A Mind With a Heart of Its Own" is an important part of the process. Or, to strike a slightly hipper pose, I bought Cracker's first album to get "Teen Angst" and "Happy Birthday to Me," but getting "Mr. Wrong" and "Don't Fuck Me Up (With Peace and Love)" is an important part of the process.
That's not to say that there aren't albums which are little more than a collection of singles, or that buying a whole bunch of songs to get one single doesn't sometimes backfire. I've got lots of those sorts of albums clogging my CD shelves, and were I two steps farther away from being one of the record-store guys in High Fidelity, I'd probably get rid of them. There are also plenty of cases where the extra inclusions get a little too cute (the eighty-odd 3-second silent tracks on Kerosene Hat, for example, or the one track that's just construction noises). But even with that, I think the benefits of the album format are worth the occasional extra hassle (even the really dire cases like the "Primitive Radio Gods" guy who did that really catchy song with the B.B. King sample-- the rest of that album sucked, and sucked hard).
Some of these cases would be unaffected by a shift to file-swapping. I'd still pick up anything new by Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, or Bruce Springsteen, among others. But if music distribution shifted to a one-track-at-a-time file-swapping sort of model, I'd wind up missing a bunch of good tracks, because it'd be easier to just grab the one song I had heard before, and skip the rest of the album.
There are probably ways around this-- package deals for downloading an album's worth of songs, or some such, rather than a straight pay-per-track model-- but the current distribution model doesn't really seem compatible with a download-based format. And while this may make me the net-based equivalent of those freaks who insist that their scratched and pitted vinyl LP's sound "warmer" than CD's, I like the current system, and would hate to see it discarded...
Anyway, feel free to mock me for being a Luddite, or make fun of my tastes in music. I'll get back to posting science stuff later, after I have a bit more time to recover from hauling every goddamn thing I own from one side of the Hudson to the other.