Another use for old machines

Finally, remote control proved to be an early problem. My main amplifier is located in the basement, and while I have a remote that lets me control the volume and the CD player, I obviously couldn’t control a PC with a stereo remote control. I quickly found a way around this problem, though. I took an old PC (an IBM Thinkpad 750C — it’s five years old and has a really slow 486 processor, so it was kind of useless to me) and placed it upstairs in my living room. I then installed a program known as WinAmp LAN Remote Control (http:// on the Thinkpad, and installed the plugin for this program on the WinAmp computer in the basement. (The beauty of WinAmp is that all kinds of people are writing plug-ins — special add-on programs — extending the functionality of the WinAmp to a great degree.)

I can now use the Thinkpad located upstairs to control the WinAmp program running on the computer downstairs next to my stereo. With this, I can control the volume, skip to the next song, repeat a currently playing song, and even load a new list of music (so when my wife goes out I can load my unacceptable music and turn the volume up). She isn’t too thrilled by the concept of a PC in the living room, but with some 14 computers now spread around the house, she’s kind of getting used to the idea.

And I’ve just purchased an IRMAN Infrared Remote Control (, which promises to let me run WinAmp from a regular stereo remote. Life is good!

This isn’t illegal

One thing that really bugs me about my project is that many people have come to assume that I’m stealing music. I wrote about my MP3 experience in my Globe and Mail column, and I received e-mail from people wondering how I had managed to download 7,000 songs. People seem to associate the word MP3 with theft. In doing so, they’re missing out on the fact that MP3 provides a fabulously flexible music format that can be used without ever having to get involved in anything illegal.

There is an intense and inane focus on the fact that, yes, people are stealing MP3s online. It’s easy to do; take a look at if you want to understand why record company efforts to stop the downloading of music online are ultimately doomed to failure. I could steal music, but I don’t want to. After all, I can imagine the headlines. (“Canadian Internet guru sentenced!”) So it’s all legit: I’ve bought some 20 CDs since I began my project, and I immediately converted them into MP3 as soon as I got home.

But I do wrestle with moral issues. I’ve got of bunch of music on LPs that I don’t have in CD format. One day, I’ll hook my record player into my PC so that I can convert these to MP3s. Yet I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to simply find these albums online and download them. After all, I’ve already paid for them, haven’t I? I don’t know the answer to this perplexing question.

Then there is the issue of quality. Every time I mention MP3, I get all kinds of audiophiles who complain that MP3 is not a perfect music format, and that some quality is lost in encoding. That might be true, but I certainly can’t notice it — it all sounds pretty good to me. With all the noisy tunes I’ve listened to over the years, I’ve probably destroyed my eardrums!

Lastly, I’ve come to appreciate that the music industry as we know it is doomed. The geeks of the world are developing technology that forever changes the way we access and listen to music. The record companies have a proposed music format to combat MP3 — known as SDMI — that I think is as likely to succeed as the Edsel. MP3 is the de facto future of music, and there is nothing that record companies can do to change that.

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