The Invisible Orchestra

sponsored by Audio Explosion

It was a grand event when Edison first managed to reproduce his
own voice by scratching grooves on a wax cylinder: in the same
way that writing freed words from speech and let thoughts be
transmitted over boundaries of space and time, recorded music
freed sound to reach people thousands of miles away or decades
to the future. However, we should note that the full potential
of writing wasn’t utilized until printing became cheap (kudos
to Gutenberg) and literacy became widespread. It wasn’t until
the common man had access to libraries and bookstores that we
could harness books as a universal medium. This holds true for
any medium: to reach its full potential, everyone must be able
to use it.

Digital audio has now freed music from even physical media.
High-speed connections to the Internet combined with archives
of accessible music and cheap, hi-fidelity home speakers
turn the computer into a musical genie: you desire a song
and the invisible orchestra sitting in your room with you
begins to play. New portable digital audio players take the
concept even further, letting you hear the music that you
want wherever you are. One of the forthcoming players,
Saehan’s MP-H10, has a laptop hard drive built in to store MP3 files. I gasped
when I heard this. Why? Well, a quick scan of
hard drive prices shows that you can get a 5Gb drive for $300:
this translates into over 5000 minutes of digital music, or
music for 9 days solid. And that fits in your hand. Oh yeah,
and it’ll probably be $250 for a 10Gb drive by the time the
player comes out in the Fall. (Above prices given on January
25, 1999.) You could carry with you every great dance tune
ever made, or all of the good songs from the 70’s.

The important point to make here is that a device like the
MP-H10 will allow you to carry all of the music that you care
about, ready for instant and convenient playback wherever you
go. The invisible orchestra will follow you as you hike,
jog, work, play, and maybe even swim. (Technically, it would be
relatively easy to waterproof the player.) Some people find this ethereal
concept of music difficult to grasp: when they buy something
they want a physical product in return. What I usually
point out to these people is that their response has been
conditioned by their society; it was not very long ago when
the thought of being able to hold on to a piece of music
in the form of a tape or a CD was absurd. People did not

use to pay money and get a chunk of something: they would
pay money to sit at an orchestra or an opera. One paid
money for the experience, not the object. Today, music is
returning to its roots as an experience.

This experience is no trite thing, either. Music is essential
to human existance. It shapes our psyche
in profound ways, causing us to smile, get up and dance,
get angry, or cry. It is more than mere sensory input —
it connects to how we view the world. I recently started
wearing my Rio more often, listening to music wherever I go; it was like
having giant colorful splashes of paint thrown over life.

The technology for this to happen is rapidly moving in.
Barring intense legal action, I find it likely that within
ten years, a large percent of the population of the US, Korea,
Japan, and Europe will be listening to music in this way.
“Recharging stations,” or Internet music kiosks available
at publicly-accessible locations, would let people purchase
music on the Internet without needing to
have a computer or an Internet connection: they could just
walk down to Circuit City, buy a “music receptacle” for
a few bucks, and “charge up” with their favorite music.
Music will be freed to be played by anyone, any time,
anywhere.

It is my hope and my dream that these technologies
will someday bring more music into the world, enrich people’s
lives, and color life as we know it with beautiful and
broad arching strokes from sound of the invisible orchestra.

The Stanford Linux Revolt

At Stanford, there’s a Technology Career Fair that pops up at least
once a year. The idea is that students will hustle down there with
their resumes and companies and students will smell each other out
for good matches. We knew that Microsoft would be coming to the
career fair, and we thought it would be great to show a little
resistance. So on Friday, the day before the fair, two of us (Nathan Schmidt
and I) got together to figure out how to stir up some dissent. We designed
a two-sided flyer that we would pass out in front of the Microsoft
booth and printed thirty copies out.

[pictures of the flyer]

Smiling, we met up at 3:00pm to head over to the Microsoft
booth. We ran into two friends who we knew were Mac
addicts who supported the Linux cause. (The enemy of my
enemy is my friend, right?) They loved the handouts and
took a few (about five) to distribute. The Microsoft
booth was inside, but outside there was a big banner
for the company. Nathan brilliantly shredded his name
tag to stick the “OPPOSE MICROSOFT” flyers over the
banner. We went inside and started handing out flyers.
We smiled and were quiet. We approached the Microsoft
booth and slipped a few to folks who looked eager to
fork their resumes over to Microsoft. Then we dished
out one to a Microsoft employee.

“Why are you doing this?” he asks, somewhat tersely.

“Because we think Linux is a better operating system,” I simply reply.

“Hm,” he grunts, dicretely pocketing the paper propaganda.

We walked around some more, distributing all but one of
the fliers; I ran back to the copy center and shelled
out $5 for 50 two-sided copies. I walked around, freely
distributing the pamphlets with a smile. I felt a little
like a Hare Krishna in an airport, giving people
flowers.

Reactions were mixed, but largely on the positive
side. Most people grinned and quite a few laughed and
gave support. Several declined, thinking I was
selling something. One guy shouted out “Ha! You’ll
never win!” Another said that his roomate worked
for Microsoft. “That sucks,” I responded empathetically.
Several complete strangers patted me on the back and
cheered me on; one even showed me the Linux T-shirt
he was secretly wearing under his button-down shirt.

A couple folks stopped me and were genuinely curious:
“What is this Linux thing? What company is it?” I
watched as they listened and understood that this was
something that was completely free, a gift to
them from the hackers of the world. An operating
system more powerful, stable, and flexible than
Microsoft’s. They thanked me and asked me for URLs.
I pointed to the ones on the flyer (www.linux.org
and www.redhat.com).

The folks from Palm Computing (now 3Com) cheered as
I walked by. Kevin MacDonell, the Palm OS Manager,
stepped out from behind the booth to talk with me.
He told me that he thought that Linux was great. I
mentioned that people had been working on porting
Linux to the PalmPilot and he got very interested.
He asked me to do a writeup: I said that I hadn’t
done it personally, but I would forward him some
URLs that might be useful. (Which I did as soon as
I got home.) If you have any suggestions for Palm
and Linux and Open Source, or some experiences you
want to share regarding putting Linux on the Palm,
email them to Kevin and tell him I sent you. But please don’t send him
frivolous mail.

The folks from Intel were happy to see Linux in the
crowd, and the Compaq folks were happy to hear that
the Linux community appreciated their success in
shipping Linux servers. Apple folks grinned and gave
us a big thumbs up, and the reps from Sun laughed
and cheered us on.

There was a definite feeling at the end of the day
that we had made an impact. We had distributed over
120 flyers, and we estimated that well over 200
saw the handout at some point. Many of the vendors
noticed us and likely reported to their managers
that there were Linux people at the show. The
folks from IBM, Compaq, and Intel who were thanked
heartily for their support of the Linux community
likely passed on the appreciation to higher-level
managers. Scores of technical people were
impacted with the possibility of something better,
something non-monopolistic, non-corporate…and
free.

Viva Linux.