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the editor's spin

Let the Sideshow Begin

Stephen F. Nathans

March 2000 | Sometimes people ought to stick to what they do best. I can't claim to know Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences well enough to understand its intricacies, or to give it a ringing endorsement, but I've got just enough knowledge of it to misuse it dangerously. So, here goes. As I see example after example of people who are great at one thing, like music or sports, expounding buffoonishly on philosophy or politics (or politico pundits like George Will making bafflingly bad baseball analogies), I'm more and more convinced Gardner was onto something.

Example: the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" may be the most affecting (and tuneful) four-minute sociology lesson in history, but set John Lennon loose talking politics without guitar or melody, and you'd find no better window into the intellectual laziness of the idol rich.

Even more befuddling are athlete political endorsements, as Ted Williams' recent pledge of support for Republican near-nominee George W. Bush amply demonstrated. It was no more surprising than Jackie Robinson's adamant support of Nixon in '68; after all, Robinson backed Rockefeller in '64, and Ted Williams and George Bush Sr. are long-time pals. But how could Teddy Ballgame support a man so baseball-blind as the younger Bush, who, as general manager of the Texas Rangers, made the blunder of the decade in trading Sammy Sosa for a light-hitting 36-year old and a bag of cracked bats? I couldn't care less about athletes' politics, so it doesn't bother me as a liberal; however, it deeply offends me as a baseball fan.

Valuable lessons in the perils of thematic overreaching are all around us. So why does this column reek of it month in and month out? Perhaps because the temptation to demonstrate the interconnectedness of discrete worlds is universal, even when the connections are faulty, frayed, or barely visible to anyone else. Plus, for every bored celebrity proving the specificity of his or her signature gift with profound idiocy in other arenas, there's a Jesse Owens or Hank Greenberg winning Olympic medals or bashing homers in Hitler's face, transcending the boundaries between a given field and the world at large.

So where should an electronic media trade magazine position itself between the inner sanctums of technological exploration and the world that feels its impact on seven-second delay? Just as CD-ROM, this magazine's initial focus, doesn't exist in a vacuum, nor does any aspect of electronic media, even if it may look different from other vantage points. I'm not saying we should all imagine ourselves as Buckminster Fuller or Rachel Carson, and aspire to perpetual vigilance of the impact of our efforts. All I'm suggesting is we keep the windows open, if only to see what it all looks like in different light, and as a visual reminder that it doesn't all start and end in the lab.

That said, as a college classmate of mine (who once knew someone who'd read Freud) used to say, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes a breakthrough in CD-R is just that, dreams of geopolitical tectonic shifts be damned. Just as there are private and internal squabbles in this industry, there are also private victories that deserve to be heralded with a degree of magnification, even if they may be felt in more subtle ways as their effects trickle into the general populace.

About as eye-catching to a non-CD-R-aficianado as Teddy Ballgame's presidential endorsement might be to a non-baseball fanatic--but as important in the technology's evolution as the publicity surrounding Williams' endorsement is indicative of what a weird world we live in--are three recent developments in CD-R that make as sound an argument as any for EMedia to stick to its roots now and then.

First is the emergence of the two 12X duplicators that grace this issue's cover, O'Dixion's DG-1 DigiCopier and Smart and Friendly's CD Copy Rocket Mach 12. First and foremost they represent the true technological marvel of recording a CD twelve times faster than some faintly remembered interval called real-time. Second, they represent a fascinating niche for this new development. Gone for the most part are the too-much-too-soon fears many harbored when 8X CD-R debuted, since today's PCs should be plenty fast to play their role in 12X desktop recording. But given that desktop recording is one off-centric, and hardly suited to disc production, those three minutes you save a few times a week isn't going to inspire many hallelujahs (even though Smart and Friendly's own Mach 12--reviewed next month--does it dazzlingly well). At the other end of the spectrum--the increasingly popular duplicator-PC-picker-printer integrated systems--12X may not make any difference at all while the other components continue at their usual pace. But in pop-'em-in-and-crank-'em-out standalone duplication, from single-disc to eight-disc and beyond, 12X CD-R is not a gift to be feared in the slightest.

Also emerging from Sanyo's busy corner of the world is a new technology called BURN-proof, which may indeed deliver on its heady promise of reducing buffer underruns to historical curiosities. With BURN-proof implemented, a drive's recording laser can supposedly pick up right where it left off and return you to your regularly scheduled burning, regardless of the nature of the interruption. Early word from a reliable beta tester is that it actually works, even for audio. Last but not least is MediaFORM's SmartDRIVE technology, which augments the Sanyo optics used in MediaFORM production systems like the cdDirector with some fascinating new features that take CD-R to strange new places. Foremost among those features is copy protection--the last thing some folks would guess you could use CD-R for.

So there you have it. No flim-flam, no pretense, no magic prism. Sometimes a trade mag is just a trade mag, and a simple observation's just a simple observation: CD-R keeps getting better.

So maybe there's hope for us all.

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