January, 2001 | The best band in my high school
had a name as fresh as its sound: The Sex Police. But their
name was hardly their greatest claim to fame. Legend has
it those four garage-rockers from Chapel Hill bestowed a
far greater legacy on the Old North State. Full of good
humor and good citizenship, the SPs volunteered for a county
clean-up project called "Adopt-A-Highway". Here's how it
worked: a local organization like the Knights of Columbus,
the Kiwanis Club, or the brothers of Delta Tau Delta would
sign on to keep an apportioned stretch of highway clean.
By way of thanks, they'd get their name on a sign that adorned
Well, it seems the good folks at Adopt-A-Highway felt
that it just wasn't fitting to emblazon the words "Sex Police"
on a sign upon which so many passing motorists might unexpectedly
sully their virgin eyes. This was the Bible Belt, after
all. Fair enough, the band members agreed. They laughed
it off, graduated, and went their separate wayson
to college, careers, marriages, and other grown-up pursuits.
Some years later, another controversial organization came
a-knockin' on Adopt-A-Highway's doors: the Ku Klux Klan.
Confident they'd fare here much as they had in Skokie and
nearby Greensboro, the good ol' boys rode in on their constitutional
high horses ready to raise their usual complement of hypocritical
hell, claiming public-mindedness, Christian charity, right
to assemble, and whatever else they could think of. And
for a while, Adopt-A-Highway looked like just another sacrificial
lamb at the altar of amendment abuse when some clever staffer
remembered the four scruffy kids with the good intentions
and unfortunate name. And with the Sex Police supplying
that flimsy slice of legal precedent, Adopt-A-Highway gave
the Constitution-thumping, modern-day Klan a taste of its
Or so the story goes. Wouldn't it be nice if we could
always ward off distasteful and injurious intrusions on
innocuous technicalities, fell all giants with such offhand
legal slingshots? Of course, as I write this, it's been
Election Day 2000 for some 112 hours. November 7 has long
since unseated June 6, 2020 as the Longest Day, and supplied
a mighty convincing reminder that complex matters are rarely
resolved so painlessly and cleanly.
I've been pounding this keyboard for a good three years
nowalong with many of my colleaguestrying to
point some way out of the mess that is writable DVD. It
would all be a lot easier if I could identify some tantalizing
legal trifle that would disqualify DVD-RAM from co-opting
DVD's good name like an innocent stretch of country highway.
Besides thickness, surface area, and the fact that it's
written and read with a laser, it really has little to do
with DVD, no matter what the old DVD Consortium saidat
least by the measuring stick of, say, universally compatible
CD-R. Unless it matches up with DVDs across the board, it
shouldn't get to use the name. But that's just opinion;
to back it up, we'd need something more concrete, even something
as fatuous as The Sex Police Principle.
I know I've beaten this dead horse before, but it just
keeps twitching. DVD-RAM is far from dead. It keeps showing
up in the oddest places, from new G4 Macs and Compaqs to
the EMedia editorial office, where the latest LaCie
4.7GB modelor, should I say, a succession of LaCie
unitsrecently put on a performance of barbiturate
intensity. See Associate Editor Michelle Manafy's review
(pp. 58) for the spell-binding details; suffice it to say
we haven't seen data recorded that slow since we reviewed
that Philips CDD 521 CD Recorder, which debuted a few months
into the first Clinton administration.
What we have here is a missmatch. DVD-RAM as we know it
today doesn't meet our expectations of a FireWire peripheral,
nor does it do what we expect of a desktop storage device,
nor does it particularly resemble what we've come to know
as DVD. There's nothing wrong with the durably rewriting
phase-change technology at the heart of DVD-RAM; the problem
is the perception the DVD name creates. CD-R was a writable
technology invented expressly to broaden and enhance the
use of a pressed-disc technology called CD-ROM; in principle,
DVD-R is the same. DVD-RAM, by contrast, is one implementation
of an optical storage technology that has nothing to do
with pressed DVD besides the first three letters of its
The best analogy to DVD-RAM has always been network-friendly,
all-but-proprietary MO; the analogy just got better with
RAM's newly announced write-once version (a popular MO option).
Another analogous product is being developed by TDK and
Calimetrics (see Stephen Clark's news feature, p.9). The
forthcoming drive (slated, like DVD+RW, for late 2001 release)
combines CD-R/RW and Calimetrics' MultiLevel (ML), an optical
technology that allows (at present) roughly four times the
density of pit-and-land optical like CD-ROM by encoding
data in eight degrees of reflectivity, or shades of gray.
The drives will use CD-R/RW technology to read and write
CD-R/RW discs, and a separate, ML-capable optical head to
read and write rewritable ML media, which will offer 2GB
of storage in the same 120mm surface area as CD-R/RW discs.
Promoted with the usual "bridge to DVD" rhetoric, ML may
be the first case in which the moniker fits. Next winter's
TDK offering is only one implementation of the Calimetrics
technology, and a temporary one at that. Its only association
with CD technology is their physical juxtaposition in this
drive. It doesn't go around calling itself a high- or double-density
CD because it isn't, any more than DVD-RAM's PD predecessor
was a rewritable CD just because those undeniably incompatible
discs were recorded in drives that could play CDs. And who
would have believed it if they'd tried to sell it as such?
I don't believe DVD-RAM is the last we'll see of Matsushita's
impressive phase-change rewritable technology, any more
than PD was. Here's hoping successful implementations and
responsible naming conventions just skip a generation.