What to do with a Dead iPod

For many of us, who have had iPods for several years, the time is fast approaching when our iPods will die. They have a limited life-span, like all electronic devices, and at best, the batteries will die; at worst, they will go to hard drive heaven.

But even when your iPod is dead, you may find uses for it. If you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on repairs, and would rather buy a new iPod–which does make sense in many cases–is it worth simply tossing the old one? Here are some ideas for using a dead iPod.

First of all, you need to decide how dead your iPod is. If its hard drive has cashed in its chips, then it’s really dead; there’s not much you can do on your own. It’s probably best to go to an iPod repair service and have the hard drive replaced. That’ll cost you much less than buying a new iPod.

Aside from the hard drive, there are many other components that can die: the screen, the backlight, or the actual digital signal processor (the chip that converts bits and bytes to notes). Failures to any of these components can result in a dead iPod – and many are reparable – but, in some cases, even without going for a fix-up, you can use the iPod.

If the backlight has died, you’ll still be able to see the screen if you hold it at the correct angle (though not in the dark; get into shuffling your songs!). If the screen itself is dead, you can get it fixed, and probably should if the iPod is recent enough (though see below for other uses for an iPod). And if the DSP is gone, well, basta; you can use it as a paperweight, or simply keep it on a shelf as a reminder. Or perhaps sell it to your local geek who might want its parts…

However, in my experience, this sort of catastrophic failure is pretty rare. Generally, such events occur early on in your iPod ownership (following the general rule of tech problems: the first month is crucial), or after several years of hard usage. The most common reason your iPod will die – aside from your dropping it and breaking the screen or ruining the hard disk – is because its battery will have reached its limit. iPod batteries generally last two to three years, depending on how often you use the iPod. You can replace them, sure, but it’s not for everyone. Several companies sell iPod battery replacement kits, including instructions – and you can get some from Amazon.com – but for those not technically inclined, this can be a daunting task.) While I’m a card-carrying geek, I haven’t bothered to try replacing the battery in any of my old iPods, because it seems to be too much of a hassle. But, again, there are companies out there that can fix it for you, so you don’t have to get your hands dirty or even worry about damaging the iPod’s other elements.

If you don’t want to replace your iPod’s battery, or don’t feel it’s worthwhile, you can still use your iPod as a music source, as long as it is plugged into an AC adapter. If you don’t have one, you can buy one for $29, or you can buy a combination cigarette-lighter charger and FM transmitter for your car (my favorite is the Monster iCarPlay). Just connect the iPod to the adapter then to your car stereo, or your home stereo, perhaps with an Apple iPod Dock, and turn it on. You’ll have plenty of music, and for a very long time (or at least until another component goes south). You may find that having an iPod just for the car or for your stereo is very useful. Personally, I use an iPod connected to my stereo through the Dock, and control it with Apple’s Remote.

Another way to use an iPod sans battery is to use it as a music source for iTunes on your computer, at home or at work. If you manually copy music to the iPod (which you can still do, even without a battery, as long as the iPod is connected to power), you can then connect the iPod to any computer running iTunes and play its music back, browsing, using playlists, or simply selecting songs, exactly as if it were an iTunes music library on that computer.

If you don’t use a battery-less iPod for music, remember that your iPod is also a hard disk or flash memory device. Because of this, it can come in very handy, even with no battery power. Say you have an 8 GB iPod with a dead battery; you now have a portable 8 GB hard disk. When you connect it to your computer, it will have to power up, but you’ll then be able to use it to transfer files from one computer to another, such as between your home and office computers. (Note that you can’t do this with an iPod touch…)

To use the iPod in this manner, connect it to your computer. On the iPod screen, uncheck Open iTunes when this iPod is attached, then check Enable disk use. Check Manually manage music and videos, then click the iPod in the iTunes Source list and select everything, then press Delete. (You’ll have backed up any music that’s only on that iPod first, of course…) Check the other tabs to make sure there is nothing set to update: podcasts, photos, videos, contacts, etc.

You’ll now have a totally empty iPod, ready for use as a hard disk. Just unmount it (click the arrow next to its name in the iTunes source list), and, the next time you connect it, the iPod will power up and mount on your computer. (You’ll need to connect it to a powered USB or FireWire port–depending on the model–in order for it to work as a hard disk. But as long as it gets power from your computer, it will spin, and you can copy files to and from it.)

Many people (unfortunately) never back up files from their computers, then, when something goes wrong, complain about losing all their hard work. With an old iPod as a backup drive, you have no excuse–just connect it, copy your personal files, then unmount it. Depending on its capacity, you may have a small drive for a handful of files, or as much as 160 GB of disk space to store your photos, music and videos.

If you can think of any other ways to use a dead iPod, add comments to this story. While the above hints are very useful, I’m sure my readers have their own ways of using their iPods. Finally, if you don’t plan to use it, find a geek who will take it off your hands, or, if you are going to dump it, contact Apple to find out how to have it recycled correctly. There are some evil metals in an iPod, and if you toss it in the trash, it will do some bad things to the environment.

iTunes Plus: No DRM, but Breadcrumbs

Today, Apple released its first “iTunes Plus” tracks, music in 256 kbps AAC format with no DRM. So you can copy this music to any computer, play it on any device or computer that supports AAC, with no restrictions. However, while there is no DRM (digital rights management) in these tracks, there are breadcrumbs.

If you look into an iTunes Plus file–just open one with a text editor–you’ll see both your name and your iTunes account ID. Here’s an example of my name showing at the beginning of the file:

And, here is where my iTunes account ID shows up (I’ve replaced the actual ID with XXX@XXX.XXX:)

You’ll also see this information in the Info window for the tracks in iTunes.

So, while nothing is stopping you from sharing these files, remember that anyone will be able to find out who initially bought them. You can most likely edit the above information with a hex editor, but I haven’t tried that yet.

Apple Bungles Bluetooth in Mac Pro

(When I wrote this article in late October 2006, I assumed that Apple would eventually discover the problem and fix it. After all, there are many posts on Apple’s Support discussion boards about this issue. But, no; I get one or two emails a week from readers who have Mac Pros and have the same problem. I’m astounded that Apple still hasn’t fixed this–in fact, it is clear that the problem is not just in factories, because this morning I received an email from a reader who had the Bluetooth module installed (and wired incorrectly) in an Apple Store.

One more thing. I had the motherboard of my Mac Pro changed last week–there was a problem with USB ports. The technician who came to change it was the same one who walked me through the wiring change for the Bluetooth module over the phone–see below for more on my change. He was very interested to see which wires went where; when he took out the motherboard, it was very clear: the wire that had been originally connected to the Bluetooth module was the one that ran to the AirPort antenna at the back of the computer.)

When I got my new Mac Pro, I was delighted to have such a fast, quiet, powerful new Mac. I was also very happy to be able to use it with my recently-bought Mighty Mouse, which is one of the nicest input devices I’ve used yet. So to do this, I had to order the Bluetooth module, which is a build-to-order option on the Mac Pro. Alas, Apple bungled very badly, connecting the wrong wire to the Bluetooth module. But I’m not the only person who has had this problem; it seems endemic. Read on to find out the whole story…I started wondering what was wrong when my mouse skipped across the screen. Tracking was, at times, normal, but at others it was jerky. I’m right-handed, and the mouse is to the right of my keyboard; the Mac Pro is on the floor, just next to my desk, at a distance of about three feet. It’s in a kind of bookcase, and there’s a desk between it, but the bookcase is open at the front and back, so those two pieces of particle board couldn’t be blocking the Bluetooth transmission, so I thought.

Since I have AppleCare on the Mac Pro, I called the support team. They made me go through the usual motions–run a hardware test, reinstall the Mighty Mouse software, try another user account, and do a clean install. (Note that this was about two hours of my time to get a EUR 39 Bluetooth module and EUR 69 Mighty Mouse to work together…) Nothing resolved the problem, so they determined that there was a problem with the Bluetooth module and/or antenna, and told me a technician would get back to me to set up an appointment. AppleCare here offers on-site repairs for desktop Macs, and that’s one of the reasons why I always buy such contracts: living in rural France, the nearest Apple repair center is a few hundred kilometers away.

The next day, the technician who would come and make the repairs called to make sure he understood the problem, and to say he was ordering the parts. Yesterday (about a week after he ordered the parts) he called to say he would be coming today to make the repair. But in the meantime, I had looked around and seen, on Apple’s discussion boards, that other users were having the same problem. Not only was the problem the same, but a solution was offered.

Here’s where we get to the bungling on Apple’s part… The Bluetooth module is a small chip placed on the motherboard, and it has to be connected to a tiny wire that runs to the Bluetooth antenna. This wire is one of four, three of which are labeled: one has a “BT” label (this is a sticker that wraps around the wire), one is labeled “2”, and another “3”. For some reason, there is a fourth wire which is unlabeled.

The 2 and 3 wires are shorter than the BT and unlabeled wires: they are just long enough to reach the location where and AirPort card would be added. (I don’t have AirPort, so they’re not connected.) The other two wires (BT and unlabeled) are the same length; both can reach the Bluetooth module. So the solution proposed was to switch the BT wire for the unlabeled wire; as the posters in the thread linked to above have all said, this resolves the problem.

So here’s the rub: what happened is that two wires got mislabeled. This didn’t happen when the Bluetooth module was added to the computer, but during the actual assembly of the Mac Pro. This means that either all of Apple’s process sheets have an error, or only some Mac Pros are affected. It’s hard to know which: not every Mac Pro purchaser will get the Bluetooth module, so they won’t have a problem unless they add one later. Also, since the Mighty Mouse works at a distance of about two feet, many users may not realize that there is a problem: it seems that the module itself, and whatever that wire is connected to, emits enough power to work at short distances. (Whereas Bluetooth is speced to work at up to 10 meters or 30 feet.) These users may, however, have occasional problems, and write them off as battery issues or interference.

This has already cost Apple a bit of money, in support calls, and in exchanging Mac Pros, which they seem to have done in some cases, as well as keyboards and mice. The technician who was to come and change my Bluetooth module was especially glad that I could fix the problem (I did it while he walked me through it on the phone), because he had a total of five hours’ drive to my house and back.

Apple’s quality control has failed here. It’s pretty simple to mislabel one of two similar wires (though I haven’t yet found what the purpose of the other wire is), but to allow a machine to go into production without that being discovered is surprising. Again, this may only be the case on a limited number of Mac Pros, or it could affect all of them.

Apple, if you’re reading this, you’d better resolve the problem in your factories, and you had better then contact everyone who has bought a Mac Pro with a Bluetooth module. Save your time, and save ours–two hours the first time, then another hour yesterday to make the fix (going slowly, with the technician on the phone, to make sure I didn’t screw anything up) is far more time than I need to spend on a mistake that is the result of ineptitude. I grant that mistakes happen, but I’m tired of spending so much time to resolve them, simply because you haven’t found them yet.

July 2010: I still get emails about this, and comments are posted to this article, so apparently there are still issues with Bluetooth on Mac Pros. I sold mine more than a year ago – not because of the Bluetooth issue, but because I wanted to downsize (I got a Mac mini) – so I can’t help those who post asking for more help.

Here’s a link to a site that shows some pictures, which, if I recall correctly, match what I saw in my Mac Pro.

More info, Sept. 2010: A reader has pointed me to the following information that he posted on his web site. He solved the problem using a third-party Bluetooth dongle.

10 Points to Consider about iTunes, EMI and DRM

Apple and EMI yesterday announced that the record label will provide DRM-free music to Apple and others to sell online. This has many ramifications for the digital music market, and for consumers. Do you need DRM-free music? Do you need the better-quality tracks the iTunes Store is selling? How will all this affect you? Read on for ten points that you should consider.1. What DRM means to you

With Apple and EMI announcing that EMI music will be sold without DRM (digital rights management), what exactly does this mean to you? If you choose to purchase this “premium” music, you will get not only DRM-free songs, but also higher quality files: 256 kbps instead of 128 kbps. Since most people can’t tell the difference between these bit rates, you probably won’t notice much (though if you listen to your music on a home stereo, and have good ears, you might). However, the big difference is no DRM: you will be able to use the files you purchase on any device–iPod, Zune, or other MP3 player, as well as streaming players, such as the Sonos and others. In addition, you will be able to listen to your music on as many devices as you want–no more five computer limit.

However, it is not yet clear whether there will be any “digital watermarking” in these files. This is a technique that allows a vendor to add unique information–such as your name and account identifier–to the tracks, which would allow the vendor to tell who provided files to peer-to-peer services or illegal download sites. You will certainly be able to “share” music with friends; this is the same as lending someone a CD today so they can rip it. (While not legal, most musicians you speak to have no problem with this, since it gets more people to listen to their music.) You will still have the same “rights” you have with CDs, and the same limits: you are not supposed to copy the music for others, etc., but the vendors all realize that no matter what they do this copying will occur.

2. The price goes up

But only for individual songs. You’ll pay $1.29 per song, but albums won’t cost any more. This is an interesting concept: the record labels will be playing to consumers of two types. First, those who buy individual songs, which represent a non-negligable share of the music download market, will pay more. The labels have wanted to increase prices for a while, and this lets them do so, without looking as though they are simply raising prices with nothing given to consumers in return. But more “faithful” consumers–those who buy albums–will pay the same price, and get better quality and no DRM.

3. Upgrade your songs

In addition to this new price per song, consumers will be able to “upgrade” their songs for 30 cents each. It is not yet clear how this will work for album purchases; will they expect me to pay, say, $6 to “upgrade” an album that contains 20 tracks? What about a set of Shostakovich string quartets I purchased; 62 tracks, that cost me $30. Would I have to pay another $18 to upgrade to better quality DRM-free tracks? Or that Bob Dylan set, with some 800 tracks; at 30 cents a song, it would cost less to buy it again than to upgrade it. Apple has to think this out carefully, in order to not penalize their best customers.

4. Apple can now sell to people with other devices

Got a Zune? Think that Microsoft’s attempt to create an online store, complete with Redmond-only math, is pathetic? No problem. The Zune supports AAC (the file format the iTunes Store sells), so you’re in luck. Just purchase from iTunes and load on your Zune. (I don’t know if you’ll be able to squirt these tracks though…) The same is true for the hundreds of other devices; you will now be able to buy from the iTunes Store, which has much more selection than other online music vendors. Of course, it will take time for all the labels to accept music without DRM, and this won’t be happening tomorrow, but it won’t be long; they’ll have to follow, because it’s clear that consumers will choose no DRM.

5. I can now buy from other online music vendors

While regulators here in Europe have been hassling Apple over iTunes Store sales not being interoperable with other players, I’ve been irked in the other direction. As an iPod user–and especially as a Mac user–I haven’t been able to buy music from the other vendors. I’m not saying that I’ve found anything that I would buy from them, that’s not on the iTunes Store, but at least I’ll be able to now. If they let Mac users into their stores, that is.

6. Competition?

If all online vendors can sell the same music without DRM, then consumers will indeed have choice. Some vendors, of course, will sell in formats that won’t play on iPods; they may sell in WMA format, which only works on Microsoft-sancioned products. But that would shut them out of the largest part of the market. For that reason, I expect them all to move to MP3 or AAC format eventually. With no DRM, anyone can buy from anyone and play the music on any device. This is a Good Thing. However, I expect the iTunes Store to sign exclusive deals with some artists; not to be the only vendor to sell their music, but to have bonus tracks that aren’t available elsewhere.

7. Apple protects itself from regulators

Speaking of regulators, Apple has now shown that they can and will offer music without DRM, and this should lift the threats from EU regulators regarding interoperability. Of course, not all iTunes Store music will be DRM-free, but Apple can now show that it is the record labels who choose, not Apple. (Note that today’s announcement by European Union regulators of an anti-trust action against Apple and record labels is about different things; it is about territorial restrictions, which, again, are imposed by the record companies. So, once again, the EU is picking on Apple rather than going after all the various online vendors, who all apply the same geographical restrictions.)

8. Steve talks the talk

Steve Jobs got dissed by part of the press for his Thoughts on Music, the open letter where he said that Apple would be glad to sell music without DRM. He was said to be just strutting, whereas he wouldn’t really go through with the change. Well, he did. ‘Nuff said.

9. You need a higher-capacity iPod

Yep, if you want those 256 kbps files, you’ve just reduced the number of songs your iPod can hold by half. So that 80 GB iPod video looks pretty good now. Apple has never sold as many of the high-capacity iPods as the smaller models, but now consumers may want that extra disk space. Apple’s the winner here, with increased sales at the high end.

10. File Formats

The iTunes Store sells music in AAC format; this is part of the MP4 standard, and generally sounds better than MP3 or WMA files at the same bit rate. However, not all portable music players support AAC. Microsoft’s Zune does, as do some Sony players, and a handful of other models. If the iTunes Store reinforces its position in the market, you can expect to see other players start supporting AAC. However, if this new open competition gives equal footing to other online vendors, there may be no change. It’s hard to tell how this will play out.

Meanwhile, Wired got it very wrong again. In this article about the announcement, the Wired authors claimed, “Many onlookers had assumed that the company would go with the widely supported MP3 format. The decision to use AAC represents a crack in the wall that has separated services and devices that use Microsoft’s WMA from those that use AAC.” They even link to the EMI press release, but apparently, the smoke got in their eyes, and they missed this part of the release: “EMI expects that consumers will be able to purchase higher quality DRM-free downloads from a variety of digital music stores within the coming weeks, with each retailer choosing whether to sell downloads in AAC, WMA, MP3 or other unprotected formats of their choice.” It’s a shame when journalists can’t read…

DRM Is Dead – Sort Of

Less than two months ago, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, published his Thoughts on Music, suggesting that if the major labels would allow Apple to sell music without DRM (digital rights management) he would be happy to do so. Well, today EMI became the first major label to agree to Jobs’ offer, announcing, at a London press conference, that EMI will make available its entire catalog of music in a new, “premium” format. This format will be DRM-free, and will also be higher quality, at 256 kpbs compared to the current 128 kpbs that is sold on the iTunes Store.

This premium service comes with a price; 30 cents more in the US, though it sounds like album prices will remain the same. (The press conference was not clear enough on this question, which I’m sure will be straightened out soon.) Users who already have EMI music will be able to “upgrade” their iTunes purchases for 30 cents per track. So, the iTunes Store, at least for EMI purchases, will offer two pricing systems: all music will still be available in DRMed tracks at 99 cents, and will also be available in premium format.Now, one must ask the question, if DRM is the problem, then why continue to offer DRM-laden tracks at all? Jobs said that consumers will have choice, and that not everyone will want to pay more for better quality. But, again, if DRM is the problem, then why have DRM on the cheaper tracks? The other difference is quality; users who pay less have fewer rights, and lower quality. Does that really make any sense at all? I can understand that Apple can’t raise prices across the board–remember, this is a 30% price increase for “premium” tracks–but once those tracks are in the wild, it won’t matter if there are DRMed versions. (Just as it doesn’t matter now, since CDs have no DRM.)

After Jobs’ article was published in February, many naysayers criticized him, saying that he was simply tossing out an idea that no one would agree to. Ha!, say I. Sure, it took time for companies to get together and come up with something, but two months is really a very short time for such a major change. (You can imagine that there was a great deal of negotiations to get to this point.) I think we can expect other labels to follow suit. Jobs said, during the press conference, that this option would be available to other labels, so all the independents who want to sell their music without DRM will now be able to do so.

Apple gets too bonuses from this–higher revenue from the iTunes Store (though Apple’s profits are slim, and the Store is not intended to make a lot of money), and, more importantly, more iPod sales. After all, double the bit rate of music tracks sold, and you’ll have fewer songs to fit on an iPod. While most iPod owners don’t buy music from the iTunes Store–or not much–this could be the beginning of a generalization of higher bit rates, which will certainly lead users to need higher-capacity iPods.

To sum up, this is a true earthquake. I can imagine that some executives at other record labels have had to change their underwear today. As Jobs said, there are leaders and there are followers, and EMI has clearly staked out first place in this new market. And Apple, as often, has been the prime mover in this change.

What Happens when the Machine Stops?

On good days, everything seems to run smoothly. My Internet connection is perky, my cellphone shows four bars, and the satellite TV pipes hundreds of channels into my home, for me to choose from as my mood changes. Bits and bytes rain down on me all day long, from wireless networks, cables and wires, and from satellites too distant to spot. Email gets here in seconds from anywhere around the world, and web pages load faster than I can read their headlines.

Yet those are the good days. There are other days when glitches in the system underscore the fragility of the entire grid. Yesterday, for example, after the heat reached the high 80s, powerful thunderstorms, as often seen here in the Alps, poured streams of water on my house for a couple of hours. At the same time, my DSL connection dropped, and the satellite TV showed nothing. While these down periods are rare, they happen. And that’s when things are running fine.What about the day that the machine stops? As prophesied by E. M. Forster in his 1909 story The Machine Stops, a society that depends too much on such tools will find it difficult to function if something big goes wrong. I recall the blackout in New York City on July 13, 1977, a hot and humid summer day when lightning struck two power lines, cutting off power for most of the city for twenty-four hours. The entire city was at a standstill, and many people simply lost control, looting and rioting, while others just sat around scratching their heads, wondering why there was such a reaction. And people didn’t have cellphones or Internet access back then. The more recent blackout in New York City, in August of 2003, had a shorter effect, with power being turned back on much quicker, but for those addicted to their Crackberries and cellphones, it must have been a tough day.

Today, I’m not thinking about the big machine stopping; I’m wondering about the smaller ones. Take, for example, any service from which you purchase digital content that uses DRM (digital rights management) to control your access. While you may think of iTunes or competing music services, or of Audible.com, the purveyor of audiobooks, you may also use software that needs to phone home from time to time to check your license. (This is relatively common with high-end vertical applications.) Even certain versions of Windows need to check with Microsoft’s servers to validate your operating system and allow you to work.

But let’s look more closely at the question of digital music and audiobooks. While I have few worries of Apple going out of business in the next decade or so (for music purchased from iTunes) or of Microsoft filing for Chapter 11 (Windows Media files are used by most competing music download services), smaller companies offer no long-term guarantee. Take Audible.com as an example. The company went through some tough times not long ago; imagine if it indeed went bankrupt (and I am not in any way suggesting that Audible will indeed go bankrupt or have any other problems). What would Audible users do to listen to the audiobooks they’ve purchased? While you generally only have to authorize your computer once, you still need to reauthorize if you buy a new computer. So in the case of a meltdown, you’d be able to listen to your audiobooks for a while, but when you got a new computer you’d be out of luck. (This assumes, of course, that Audible or any other such company is not bought out by a bigger fish who keeps the authorization scheme up and running.)

If the machine did stop, what rights would consumers have? While it’s trivial to “record” audio from a computer, using software designed to record what the computer is playing back, effectively saving audiobooks in other, non-DRMed formats, this violates copyright laws. Yet if a company such as Audible were to go belly-up, would consumers be in the wrong if they “converted” their audiobooks in this manner? The same goes for music; it’s easy to burn music to CDs then re-rip them in other formats–less so for audiobooks, given their length–would this be a violation of copyright? (In my opinion, no, since there would be no other way to access the content.)

As far as I know, there has yet to be a case where a company selling DRM-laden media has shut down in such a way as to affect users’ access to content they have purchased. But things happen, and, one day, one of these small machines is going to stop. What will we consumers be allowed to do? And how will we be able to do it? While I’m not against the concept of DRM to protect the rights of authors and distributors, I have to admit that this thought is worrisome. When you consider that you can still play any LPs you bought fifty years ago, and all the CDs you’ve bought since the 80s, the idea that you’ll be unable to listen to digital media after just a few years is chilling.

Hattogate, or, The Music You Hear is Not What You Think

Fans of classical music know that there are great performers and there are the rest. But those with any experience listening to music also know that a lot of what you hear depends on context: if you think you’re hearing a great performer, you’re likely to appreciate their performance even more.

In addition to my activities writing about Macs and iPods, I also review CDs for MusicWeb, an independent British web site that publishes reviews of classical CDs. So I was quite amused this morning when I read an article on the web site of the British classical music magazine Gramophone, entitled Masterpieces Or Fakes? The Joyce Hatto Scandal.

Joyce Hatto is a late pianist who had recorded a handful of good discs then suffered from cancer, from which she died in June 2006. Somewhere in the past year of her life, recordings started spewing out from a small label, run by her husband, showing this woman to have a surprising range of talents, and Gramophone, along with other publications, began championing these recordings. But some months ago, posters to the rec.music.classical.recordings newsgroup began questioning the possibility that this woman could have played all these works, with styles that sounded so different. One poster said:

“After hearing so much about Joyce Hatto, I started purchasing some of her recordings. While nothing I have heard is bad (in fact, I am glad I bought these CDs), I have noticed something eerie: that the pianist playing the Mozart sonatas cannot be the pianist playing Prokofiev
or the pianist playing Albeniz. I have the distinct feeling of being the victim of some sort of hoax. Does anyone else share these feelings?”

Well, where I come from, you might say, “them’s fightin’ words”, but they incited some people to start looking more closely at this phenomenon. The results seem to be clear (as shown in the Gramophone article linked above): not only was this a hoax, but a purely monetarily-driven one, which simply took copies of some works, fiddled with others, and released them to a world of people who fawn after the latest sensation.All this raises many questions, of course. First, you have to feel bad for the professional critics who, hearing something they liked, not only lauded it, but created the context to fulfill their wishes with each subsequent recording from this pianist. Second, it shows that there are, perhaps, some recordings by lesser-known musicians that had been “pirated” and branded with the Joyce Hatto name which merit further attention. Had these same critics panned the discs that were the actual sources of the Hatto recordings?

Finally, and perhaps more important, it shows the futility of any kind of criticism. Well, you can’t copy books or movies, but for classical music where critics review not so much the music as the interpretation and performance, how much criticism is truly objective? Perhaps it is time for critics to work blindly, getting nothing but blank discs (or digital files) and reviewing these, then, only after the reviews are filed, finding out who the performers are. This would, of course, not be to the liking of the major record labels, for whom marketing is often more important than actual performances. (Granted, this is only really valid for instrumental performances; it is relatively simple to recognize a familiar voice in an opera or other vocal recording.)

There has always been criticism of critics, but nowhere other than the classical music arena does the concept of “great performances” or “reference performances” hold sway. These are the benchmarks against which other performances are measured, and they can be self-fulfilling: the more familiar you are with your benchmark, the more you will like it and reinforce its validity.

I tend to be somewhat obsessive about music, and, for some composers, actively seek out different versions of works I like in order to have a variety of performances, because no one performance can be considered final or perfect. I have never succumbed to unfailing appreciation for a specific artist (though Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is by far my preferred singer of German lieder), and tend to search broadly. It’s a shame for those who do think they found the new musical messiah, and many music publications–including Gramophone, who will have to make a serious mea culpa–will suffer from this type of hoax.

While it’s almost surprising this hasn’t happened before, there are actually a few reasons that make this case different from others. Joyce Hatto had not performed anywhere for a long time, so no one would have been able to compare her performance style with her recordings. Also, this was a very small label, and, while Hatto-mania may have blossomed, it certainly never went far enough to generate large sales. It seems that the greed behind this hoax was limited to a single person, the late pianist’s husband.

But with digital technology so prevalent, such that anyone can copy a CD and release it as their own, no one has time to check all the recordings that are released to make sure they are what they say. (Kudos to Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio for taking the time to analyze these recordings down to their waveforms; check this link for examples, both audio and visual, proving that the Hatto recordings are not indeed Hatto recordings.) While it is unlikely that there are many unscrupulous record labels who would consider perpetrating such a hoax, the cat’s out of the bag, and this may give ideas to others. Caveat emptor, right?

The Key to the I Ching

[Author’s note: I wrote this article about ten years ago, when I was very interested in the Yi Jing, or I Ching, and how it can be applied to everyday life. While my interest in the Yi Jing has waned, I have received many compliments about this article and its pertinence to understanding this cryptic book. For this reason, I have edited it slightly and posted it here on my blog, instead of in its previous location on my “old” web site.]

The main elements of the Yi Jing, or I Ching, are its hexagrams. These 64 figures, made up only of solid and broken lines, are the foundation of this book which has come to us through more than two millennia, but nowhere in the book is there an explanation of what these hexagrams really represent. It is as if the Chinese of the Han Dynasty did not need a user’s manual to use the book, that the mere words used to describe the situation presented in the hexagram were sufficient. This must be the case, because their diviners knew this system perfectly, and did not need to explain the obvious. Unfortunately, time has gone by, and we do not have this knowledge, this information that they transmitted orally and never put down in black and white. We need to examine this problem if we truly want to understand the Yi Jing.

Many people have written about interpreting the Yi Jing, often by explaining the importance of the lines, trigrams, nuclear hexagrams, and the other permutations that arise when casting a hexagram, but I do not think anyone has clearly explained exactly what a hexagram is, which is the key to understanding any interpretation of the Yi Jing. Different, seemingly unrelated fields, such as linguistics and psychology, can give us new insights into some aspects of this question. This sort of multidisciplinary approach, which has the advantage of examining things from the outside, will allow us to answer the question, with almost total certainty – what is a hexagram?
The Chinese point of view

First of all, what do the Chinese think about this? A hexagram, just like a trigram, is called a gua. This word can be defined as a “pile of divinatory information”. But this word only describes a physical or visual object, it does not explain what a hexagram is, just what it looks like. When the Chinese talk of the idea behind a hexagram they talk of a shi, which is often translated by “moment”. But what is a moment, both for the Chinese and for us westerners? For Westerners it is “a short period of time”, an indivisible, ephemeral unit of time. We tend to think of this as the smallest such unit (at least in common language – it is obvious that some sciences use extremely short units of time to measure events). The Chinese have a totally different concept for the moment. A moment is a situation. It is the son of the past and the father of the future. This word, shi, is used in different expressions to talk about seasons, times zones, chances, opportunities. A situation is far from indivisible, quite the opposite: it is a fence which holds together all of the related moments of an event, which are seen as a whole.

Let us use the word situation to talk about what happens inside a hexagram. This word can clear up a number of points. A situation can be seen in two different ways, and have two totally opposite interpretations. Seen from the outside, a situation seems frozen, not without a relationship to what came before it, but independent of this context, because you can only see the actual moment, and not its evolution. On the other hand, seen from the inside, a situation is quite different. The moment that is seen is lived through, and when you are on the inside you have to distinguish the relationship between the past and the future. It is dynamic, and you can not separate it from what came before it. It is just as difficult to envisage a moment without taking into account its possible evolution, what it may become, whether desired or not, because these evolutions are all present, in the form of possibilities. The relativity of the point of view changes the way the moment is perceived.

Looking at two sides of a coin

The Yi Jing is information, in its rawest form. The sentences in its text are short, concise, and contain no redundancy. It is often this redundancy, however, that helps us understand a text. This naked text is one of the most daunting features of the Yi Jing, since its information does not give much meaning. In fact, the path one must follow to go from information to meaning is a long one, which I will briefly sketch out here.

The question of meaning is central to any discussion of written texts. Meaning is not inherent to a text, it is based on the reader’s interpretation. Since the text is static, there is no direct negotiation of meaning between the writer and the reader. The reader can not ask questions to the writer, but must be responsible for finding all the clues the writer has left so the reader can work out the intended meaning. There is an interactive relationship between the reader and writer, but this relationship is realized through the text, not with the text. This means that the reader can never be certain whether the meaning extracted from a text corresponds to the writer’s goal. Understanding can never be complete: it can only be approximate, and relative to purpose. Not only is comprehension relative to purpose, but it is also relative to the amount of information, both textual and other, that the reader is able to process. “Computing the intended meaning of a speaker/writer depends… on knowledge of many details over and above those to be found in the textual record of the speaker/writer’s linguistic production.” (Discourse Analysis, Brown and Yule, Cambridge University Press, 1983 p. 116)

Meaning is not information; information is not meaning. In this digital society we tend to take for granted that the two are similar. As I write this article on my computer, the words I am typing are converted into the simplest possible form of code so the computer can work with it. This binary code, a code made up of 1s and 0s, is as rudimentary as possible; no code can be less complex. This is paradoxical, because the computer, a machine that can calculate, can do many operations that we, humans, cannot do so quickly, cannot even count to two. This is because the computer is working with information, not meaning.

Even the words you are reading are only information. They are made up of another code, one made of symbols, that we call an alphabet. This alphabet contains roughly 100 such symbols, letters and punctuation marks, that combine to form words, which in turn combine to form sentences, and so on. (I say about 100 symbols in our alphabet, because all the punctuation marks, numbers, and both capital and small letters are different symbols. It is tempting to talk of an alphabet containing 26 letters, but this is an oversimplification.) In order to understand this information you need, first of all, to understand the code. There are two forms of code used here: the letters, and the language.

Many languages, such as Chinese, use a different writing system than we do, and if the reader cannot interpret this system he or she will go no further. In this form of language there is no correspondence between the written symbols and their pronunciation. This makes it difficult to figure out a word one has heard, but cannot read. One must also know the language, of course, for even understanding the first level of code, the alphabet, or the symbols, does not open up the combinatory possibilities of this code.

Let us assume that the reader knows these two codes, he or she must now go up a level to extract the meanings of each word used. Word meaning is a very complex thing. Some words are relatively simple to define, and, therefore, their meaning is not relative to any other information. Words such as tomato, zebra, and chair can be explained by pictures or physical examples. Other words, however, have more complex meanings which require that they be defined in relation to other words, ideas or situations. What is the sky, how do you explain deep, how do you make someone understand the concept of fear? What is more, many words have multiple meanings, and the meaning one must choose in a given situation is relative to the context where the word is found. A word such as pound could mean to hit, an enclosure for stray dogs, a unit of weight, or a unit of British currency. The situation and context of a given sentence will help the reader to decide which meaning is appropriate.

The next level of interpretation is the relationship between word meaning and sentence meaning. As we have seen, the meaning of many words is relative to its context, and, at this level, context includes the surrounding words. The interpretation of a sentence interacts with the interpretation of words in order to create an idea. But even the meaning of a sentence is dependent on its context. A sentence like “It furthers one to cross the great water” has a very precise meaning in the context of the Yi Jing, but elsewhere it would have a slightly different, perhaps less metaphorical meaning. The reader must, therefore, take into account the overall context of the text he or she is reading.

We have so far looked at four aspects of meaning: codes, words, sentences, and context. These four features make up only a part of what is necessary for meaning to emerge from a text. At this point the reader has processed all the information given by the text. Now, the dynamic interrelation between reader and text is shifted over to the reader’s shoulders, and the reader will make out only as much meaning as he or she can, based on knowledge that goes beyond the text.

Take for example hexagram 48, The Well. The idea a Western reader makes of a well is that of, for instance, the well that may be found within the courtyard of a castle, or maybe of a fountain in a small village in Provence. Already these two types of well imply different situations, but neither matches exactly the situation of a well in ancient China. If you look at the character used to write the word well in Chinese, you will see a graphical description of the nine parcels of land that make up the area around a well. There were eight parcels belonging to eight families, and the ninth central parcel contained the well. This parcel was kept up, in turn, by each of the eight surrounding families, and the crops harvested on this land went to the Lord as taxes. One can add to this the social aspect of a well, being a meeting place where information was exchanged among the families, but this background information about the upkeep of the well and its surrounding land is, in effect, vital to the understanding of the situation. Not knowing this means that the meaning extracted from a reading of this hexagram will not correspond exactly to the intended meaning. As I said before, it is impossible to extract meaning that corresponds exactly to what was intended, but the more background information the reader has, the closer he or she will be to that intended meaning.

There is another factor that affects the interpretation of meaning, and this factor, I will argue, has a major role in the interpretation of the Yi Jing. Cognitive science proposes a theory of knowledge called schema theory, which, we will see, can explain why we have difficulty understanding the Yi Jing, and will give us a new outlook on how we may go about understanding what it tries to tell us. Schemata are the key to the Yi Jing.

Schema theory was born in the 1970s as researchers in cognitive science attempted to explain how knowledge is processed in the brain. A number of researchers have proposed alternatives to this theory, such as scripts, frames, etc. While these concepts are not entirely synonymous, they are similar enough that a discussion of one of them will bring forth ideas inherent to all of them.

Schemata are the basic units of knowledge. A schema is an abstract, internal mental representation of an idea, event, an action, or a situation. Meaning is seen as being encoded in different schemata, which also contain information about how such schemata are interrelated. Schemata also contain the default knowledge of a typical, or even a stereotypical member of its class. If you hear the word “dog”, you think of a stereotypical dog, which may be different for you than for me. If you have a better relationship with dogs than I do, you will also have a schema which includes that affective appreciation. There is a relationship between the memory of past situations and current interpretation. If the schema changes, which all schemata do over time, the memory is added to the new information to create a revised schema. So if one day I develop a positive relationship with a dog, my schema for dog will change.

In order to understand how schemata function, I will give a few simple examples. I will then explain how this theory can be used to explain the Yi Jing.

First of all, schemata can act as a visual representation of something. Imagine that you are walking down the street, and you see a person walking toward you on the sidewalk. From far away you can tell it is a person, and, maybe, if it is a child or adult, a man or woman. This is the schema that represents the physical form of a person that is activated. As the person gets closer, you may be able to see about what the persons age is. This is a schema that adds information to your original information, by many possible means. It may be the way the person walks, the type of clothes they are wearing or some other information that helps you come to this conclusion. As the person gets even closer, he or she may look familiar, it may be someone you know. At some point, the number of features you have been able to see on the person converge toward the visual schema you have of a particular person. At this point you know who the person is, and you can not, for the time that you see them, forget who it is, or need more information. Knowing, in this sense, is absolute. It is a question of yes or no. You may however, realize that it is not, after all, the person you thought it was, and at this point the schema which represents the first person will be transformed into that for a different person.

In fact, a great deal of perception is based on hypotheses being confirmed like this. One may look at an object and think it is a certain object, but on a closer look realize it is something else. But let us look again at that person walking down the street. They are getting closer now, and you can see it is indeed the first person you thought of, but they have cut their hair. Now, your mind revises the schema which contains the information about this person to include short hair instead of long. You would be able to recognize the person in another situation with long hair, such as in a photograph, but now the schema for that person includes the possibility of two different hair styles. The previous schema has not been overridden, nor overwritten, just modified. This is always happening to schemata, they are constantly revised according to our interaction with any situation or object. Some things are static, and therefore cannot change their characteristics (rituals, objects), while other things are dynamic and are constantly revised in the mind.

Another analogy which will help understand schemata is that of a play. One could say that a schema is like a play, with actors, props, situations, and a script. In the same way that a play may be performed by different actors, in a different setting, at a different time, even in a different language, it is still, more or less, the same play. Hamlet in Chinese would still be Hamlet.

If, for example, I tell you about a restaurant where I recently had lunch, your mind will activate the appropriate schema, and bring forth the appropriate props and actions to help you predict what I will tell you. In a restaurant there is a table, chairs, a menu, a waiter or waitress, food, and a bill. There are actions such as reading the menu, ordering, eating, and paying. Some of these things may be different, it may be a self-service restaurant, but the overall idea is the same.

Schemata like this are an integral part of our social interaction, but the schema itself is no more than a skeleton around which the salient information is added. It can be seen as a basic model of a situation or action. If the schema we are using to interpret a situation does not correspond to the actions or actors in a situation, we are surprised, sometimes to the point of not understanding. If there are major differences, I will have to explain them to you, since I will know that they do not correspond to the default schema for restaurants. For example, if there was a musician playing in the restaurant, or if the waiters sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to the person I was with, I would have to explain it, these ideas are not part of the default schema for a restaurant. If the waiter tells me I must cook the food myself, I will be not only surprised, but maybe outraged, since this does not correspond to my expectations. I may go to another restaurant, since one of the main reasons for eating out is to not cook.

Schemata and text

Reading is a complex process. It seems simple for us, because we are so used to it. It can seem to be simply a question of deciphering words on a page and making sense of them. But we have already seen how making sense depends on many things. One thing that helps, or hinders making sense of a text is the knowledge the reader has of the inherent schemata.

In order to understand a text the reader must be able to make the connection between the words read on the page and the appropriate schemata in his or her mind. In most cases, this is not a problem. This happens subconsciously so the reader is not at all aware of the work that the brain does. The reader is, however, aware when something does not fit. When the reader does not have the appropriate schema he or she simply cannot understand the information being read. This is the case when someone tries to read a text dealing with a domain that the person is totally unfamiliar with. The words may make sense one by one, but there is no sense at all to the text as a whole.

In other cases, the reader may have the appropriate schema, but may not be able to activate it. This may be because the clues given by the writer are insufficient to help the reader recognize what is being discussed. In this situation, all that is necessary is that the reader find additional clues. One can observe this sometimes when after having read a text and not understanding it, one goes back to read it again, and finds it much easier. This is because the ideas behind the text have become familiar, helping the reader to awaken the schema necessary to understand it.

Sometimes the reader may be able to interpret the text, but not find the interpretation that the writer expected. The appropriate schemata are available, but the reader does not understand the author.

In addition to schemata that describe experiences, events, and actions, there are also what could be called cultural schemata. These are schemata that are firmly rooted in a particular culture, and lead the interpretation of particular information in a culture-specific direction. Since we are talking here about the Yi Jing, I will briefly look at some of the ideas that come from Chinese culture that fit this heading.

We have already seen that the idea of a well is different in China and in the west. The object is the same, but the way it is used and perceived is very different. Hexagram 50 talks about a ritual vessel called a Ding. This is something that dates back very far in Chinese culture, and that we need an explanation for in order to understand its significance. (See the preface to the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the I Ching by C.G. Jung.) There are also other objects, such as belts and robes, that have no meaning for us without an explanation.

“Crossing the great waters” is an expression that appears many times in the YI Jing. For anyone who has visited China the strength of this phrase is evident: rivers there are often very wide, deep, and dangerous. Crossing a river, in ancient China, was a difficult task.

The idea of the Superior Man is another important idea that needs explanation. It represents the ideal of a man who is acting the correct way in a given situation. The translation used by Wilhelm, superior, does not help to understand this, and, in fact, only makes it more obscure by adding on a concept, that of noble birth, which does not have its place in the Chinese term.
These are just a few ideas that need clarification so the western reader can make sense of Chinese ideas. The YI Jing is full of such ideas, and the biggest problem is when the words used bring forth schemata that correspond to a western idea, such as noble, that is far removed from the concept in Chinese.

As I said at the beginning of this article, a hexagram is a situation. Each situation in our life corresponds to one or more schemata, and each of the hexagrams corresponds to schemata also. Using the idea of schemata for an analysis of the Yi Jing would permit a much simpler approach to the Yi Jing.

All this finally brings us to an examination of schema theory and its relevance to the Yi Jing. We have seen how schemata are necessary to understanding a written text, and how meaning is relative to a number of variables. The Yi Jing has the particularity of coming from ancient China, where both the cultural differences and the time differences are very great. In order to try and understand the Yi Jing it is necessary to find the relationship between the ideas presented in the text and similar ideas that we may be able to understand today.

But the very thing that makes the Yi Jing stand out also makes it very difficult to understand. We do not have the schemata that make up the heart of the Yi Jing. Our culture is so far removed that the best we can do is incorrectly interpret something that seems similar. Without these schemata we are lost, the text seems to make no sense sometimes, and even when it does seem to make sense we cannot be sure that our interpretation is correct.

Today’s hexagrams

If the Yi Jing were written today, it would be necessary to use situations, and schemata, that correspond to our world-view and our understanding of the interrelations of the world. Some hexagrams would talk about politics, and we can imagine one called Cohabitation. This hexagram describes a situation where the emperor is required to rule with a minister who does not think along the same lines as he does. [This refers to the political situation in France, where I live, at the time I was writing the article. As the reader can see, this reference is already obscure, especially to those outside of France.] The Landing would be a hexagram describing how a coalition of foreign armies comes to help liberate a country that is occupied. Or The Old Bridge would describe the symbol of a beautiful centuries-old bridge that is destroyed in a country splitting apart during a bloody civil war, where no other countries come to their aid.

Hexagrams like this are related to situations that we know, that are current. It takes little explanation to understand the situation, and the metaphors that are being presented. The Yi Jing is like that. If we look closely enough at what is being described in the hexagrams, we will find similar information. Once we have discovered the situations described, we can look at them as schemata for other, similar, or metaphorically related situations. When casting the hexagram The Army, it is rarely a question of army, but a metaphorical resemblance to the idea of army. This background of schemata within the hexagrams is present in all 64 of them.

What we need to understand the Yi Jing is to discover the schemata that underlie the 64 hexagrams. No translation currently available can help us do that, because most of them have been made by people who are ignorant of the very concepts that made up ancient Chinese culture. In fact, no translation can translate these concepts. It is necessary to explain them, since they go beyond the words of the text, they are the elements by which the Han Chinese could make sense of their world. Any explanation would include a similar situation related to our world-view, which would enable us to make the connection between the idea in the YI Jing and a similar idea today.

Any translation must respect the text being translated, but a translation that translates only the text and not the ideas within is worthless. Many of the ideas in the Yi Jing are what could be called archetypal ideas, that can resonate even across many centuries, but even those must be discovered. The key to the Yi Jing is simple. We must go back and look at the way the Chinese lived at the time of the Yi Jing, look at their habits and their world-view, and find equivalents in our modern, western world. Only then will we truly be able to understand how the Yi Jing functions. Only then will we be able to use this extraordinary tool that can enable us to discover in ourselves that which we could not find without the aid of this book.

People have asked me to recommend a translation of the Yi Jing. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend any current English translations, but this French translation, Le Yi Jing : Le livre des changements, by my friend and colleague Cyrille Javary, who inspired this article, with Pierre Faure, is probably the closest to what this article pleads for. His other books, Le Yi Jing : Le Grand Livre du Yin et du Yang, Les rouages du Yi Jing, and
Le Discours de la tortue give a great deal of insight into the Yi Jing. Cyrille Javary is one of the most knowledgeable westerners when it comes to the Yi Jing, and especially its historical signification. His work ignores the “new age” interpretations of the Yi Jing, and attempts to reconstruct the mind-set and conceptions of the Han Chinese.

Getting the Most out of Classical Music with iTunes and the iPod

[Update, September 2006. Apple introduced gapless playback to iTunes 7 and to the latest iPods, making the questions of joining tracks, as explained below, moot in many cases. See this article for an explanation of gapless playback.

However, if you have an older iPod (older than the iPod video or nano), you won’t benefit from this feature. In addition, you may still want to join tracks to be able to play music at random, playing entire works, rather than disparate movements. So much of this article remains valid today.]

While Apple is aggressively marketing its iPod to the younger generation, through its ads and commercials featuring black silhouettes dancing to hip-hop and rock music, the iPod is also a valuable device for listening to classical music. However, to get the most out of this type of music, you need to reconsider the way you rip your CDs.

I’ve got eclectic musical tastes. My iPod contains music by the Grateful Dead, The Durutti Column, The Clash, Brian Eno, moe. and Widespread Panic, as well as Bach, Haydn, Handel and Schubert. I’ve long explored all types of music, and the capacity of my iPod lets me carry a diverse selection of tunes with me.

Read more

What is Gapless Playback on the iPod and in iTunes? (Update)

One of the major announcements that Apple made on September 12 was that the latest video iPod (the 5G model) offers gapless playback, and that this feature is available for previous video iPods when updated with the latest firmware. While those who know what gapless playback means embraced this with a loud “Huzzah!”, others are scratching their heads trying to figure out what this means. Here’s an overview of what gapless playback is, how it works, and why you might want it.

Gapless playback is simply the ability for the iPod to play music with no artificial gaps between tracks. For most music, you’ll never notice the difference, but if you listen to operas, dance mixes, or classic progressive rock albums (the standard examples are Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), you’ll hear a jarring half-second space between tracks that are meant to continue seamlessly. This lurch is the audio equivalent of an elevator dropping a floor suddenly, and ruins the listening experience. Fans of live music (The Grateful Dead, and other jambands) especially hate this, since this type of music often has songs that segue from one to another with no break. Finally, Apple answered the call, making the new iPod the only current portable music player that offers gapless playback. (Note: naysayers will point out that the Rio Karma has gapless playback; I said that no current portable music players offer this feature. The Rio Karma is no longer being sold.)

When I wrote about gapless playback here about a year ago, I offered a workaround that would allow classical music fans to rip their music so it could be gapless. The idea was that you simply join tracks when ripping albums, so instead of multiple tracks with numerous hiccoughs, you’d have a single track for an entire work. This is okay, but it’s a workaround; you wouldn’t be able to find which track you were listening to. Now, with gapless playback, operas can have individual tracks, and you won’t heard the difference.

Of course, there’s a down side to this: now classical music fans who did rip their music with joined tracks will probably want to re-rip these discs; I know I’ll be re-ripping all my operas. Sigh.

So how does gapless playback work? You probably noticed that the first time you launched iTunes, the program took a few minutes to analyze your music for gapless playback. iTunes looked at your tracks to determine if there was no silence at their ends to flag them as tracks that would flow smoothly into the following tracks. This works in iTunes, as well as with all 5G iPods and the new iPod nano. However, this does not work with previous iPod models. Curiously, this process works automatically, though there is a “Part of a gapless album” tag that can be set for individual tracks. It’s not clear if this tag exists to turn on gapless playback or to turn it off. Initial reports say it’s not needed for gapless playback (it certainly isn’t needed with iTunes); I’m awaiting a new iPod to test it there and figure out exactly what it’s for. (Yes, I don’t yet own a video iPod.)

Stay tuned for an update to this article in a week or so when I’ve fully figured out how this tag affects playback on the iPod. For now, be happy (if you find gapless playback useful) or yawn if you don’t. I, for one, applaud the fact that Apple listened to its users and provided this needed feature.

Update: Apple has cleared up the question about the gapless tag. They say this tag only matters if you have crossfade playback turned on in iTunes, and it only affects playback from iTunes. All gapless albums are automatically detected and played as such on 5G iPods (video-capable iPods) and 2G iPod nanos (the latest versions of the nano).