A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Friday, 10 February 2017

Hooptedoodle #250 - Steve Jobs Says No

This is eventually going to develop into a gentle whinge, so whingeophobes should leave smartly. As a background project - more of a private ambition, really, I intend to improve my knowledge of the Thirty Years War sometime soon. I know some bits of the history and some of the names, but my line of thinking is thus:

This was an important period of European history, I don't know very much about it, and I think I probably should know a bit more. It might make me a better, more rounded person (unlikely) and I might find it interesting (less unlikely).


I have Peter H Wilson's highly praised The Thirty Years War - Europe's Tragedy, which I've skimmed and which looks very good. I bought it about 2 years ago. The main problems have been:

(1) The last two years have been a bit hectic for me - very little free time or peace of mind to settle to it, because - with the best will in the world...

(2) ...it is a big book. Substantial. It is a serious piece of work, to be approached with appropriately monastic dedication. Anything less would be selling both me and Dr Wilson short.

So I decided that I might be better to start with something shorter and higher level, so I can find some kind of timeline or skeleton on which I can hang a more detailed study. This is the Foy Approach to problem solving - start with some one-liners and a nice map or two, and then find where are the hooks and trapdoors to get closer to the details.


So I purchased CV Wedgwood's volume on the subject - a bit long in the tooth now, maybe, since it dates from 1938, and our collective view of Germany has evolved a little since then, but Dame Veronica is always a comfortable read, I find, if somewhat over-partial at times. I bought a paperback, American edition which set me back some £12 or so. It is smaller than Wilson's book, and I have actually started reading it. Good so far. The plan is, once I've finished it, to return to the worthy Europe's Tragedy with a few more lights on and greater enthusiasm.

One (debatable) brainwave was the idea that I might augment my efforts with an audiobook - I listen to audiobooks a lot when I'm out in my van, so I thought that might be useful. We might discuss how an audiobook would work without any maps to hand, but you can see what I was thinking. So I went to the excellent website of Librivox, and downloaded a suitably hefty, three-part freebie, which is an unabridged reading of a translation of Schiller's great standard history.

Now that is a very fair pedigree, you have to admit. I could feel the scholarship gland swelling just at the idea - sadly, the reality was less happy. The product is free, so it almost seems above criticism, but I could not warm to the narrator, the language (translated, at that) is ponderous in the extreme. Indigestible. I found I could drive along quite happily, thinking about something else, while the pearls of Schiller droned on in the background. So I'd run it back a bit, and try to locate the point at which I had lost the plot (so to speak), and the same thing would happen. I also had a faint worry that I might become a danger on the roads if I paid more attention to the goings-on in Germany.

In truth, the main problem is the text - in whatever tongue, Schiller's work comes from a period when it was necessary for historians - nay, scholars of all types - to write in a lofty and long-winded manner which demonstrated their stature and their great wisdom. The actual transmission of knowledge seems so much a lesser objective that at times I wonder whether they even thought it was necessary.

Schiller/Librivox - strike. Not for me.

Being a stubborn sort of fellow, or a slow learner, if you prefer, I located an unabridged audiobook version of CV Wedgwood's history, narrated by one Charlton Griffin. I listened to an extract, and it really sounded very promising, though the issue about the maps remains, of course. Good-oh - so how do I get one?


Well, my friends at Amazon offered me a free download copy, no less, but I would have to subscribe to Audible, which is Amazon's audio-book version of the age-old book-of-the-month-club racket, and would cost me £7.99 a month indefinitely thereafter. No, thanks - I do not care if I then have access to 200,000 audiobooks - I do not wish to even think about 200,000 audiobooks. I swerved that solution.

Next up, I found that I could download the same book for about £8 from iTunes. OK - after some thought, I did this. It comes down as M4P files, which will only play on an Apple device and which cannot legally be converted to more mainstream MP3. In fact I had a pretty good idea this is what would happen, and I do have an iPhone and an iMac, and we have the iTunes player app installed on various other devices, but not, alas, on my van. I could, of course, hook up my iPhone to the van's BlueTooth, or even just plug the beggar in, but it is more hassle than I would choose.

Now we get to sanctimony, so I tread warily here. I can understand that audio and music files should be protected in some way, not just to boost Apple's profits, but to maintain any chance of the recorded music industry surviving. It is customary at this point to bleat on about how I have purchased these files, and thus am the owner, and should be able to play them on anything I want - I would quite like it if this argument carried some weight, but the reality is that I have paid £8 for a set of files which are intended only to play on Apple kit or via Apple's licensed software. I knew this before I bought them, and that is what I have bought - I have no further rights.

On the other hand...

On the other hand, it is worth bearing in mind that Steve Jobs, before he became a lay saint, was not the least sanctimonious person in history. It should also be remembered that an operating system upgrade for one of the early iPhones (or it might have been an iPod - I don't actually care which) deliberately deleted any non-iTunes musical files from the customer's device, even if he had purchased the tracks legally from some other source. I believe Apple did get into hot water over this, and rightly so, but the logic was originally that Mr Jobs felt he should protect Apple's financial position by making it impracticable for i-device owners to buy their music elsewhere (though there was no such Term or Condition of use accompanying the sale of the device), and - primarily - because Apple thought they could get away with it. Given the background, I do not find the idea of someone ripping them off so terrible.

If anyone has any idea how to convert M4P files into MP3, so I can listen while I'm driving, then - entirely out of academic, theoretical interest, of course, I would be happy to learn. Not that I would ever do such a thing, you understand.

19 comments:

  1. Tony, I recall when I had a huge and much valued album collection on an I Pod, and the lot was wiped clean by an update, I was not a happy bunny I can tell you! Understand your frustration.

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    1. Bad people. No question. Customer experience my groin.

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  2. I used to listen to audio books while I painted, but like you said, your mind wanders and you have to backtrack to a bit you remember and start again. I did try and listen just sitting relaxing, I'd then wake up 3 hours later wondering "what the hell happened there!"
    Trouble is the 30 Years War is so bloody confusing, I've tried to read books, not half as complicated as your books and I still couldn't fatham out what was going on. The 30 years War and the War of the Roses are the most difficult periods to read the history off.
    I'd say pick something easier to read, what about back issues of Roy and the Rovers or Noddy??

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    1. 'Noddy and the rape of Magdeburg' is a good one.

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    2. Ray - I've really got into talking books when driving. If i listen to them in the house then mostly I start snoozing, as you say, but when I'm driving I need a small level of distraction - if I only have the driving to think about, my mind starts to wander, pretty soon I am agonising about some comment some guy made to me at a meeting in 1984, and I miss the exit for Sunderland (or whatever). Talking books have worked really well - I've thoroughly enjoyed assorted adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Lost World, Around the World in 80 Days, Short Stories of Jack London and a load of other stuff. Keeps me just a little distracted, and the driving keeps me awake (at least that's the theory) so it works. The Librivox version of the Schiller history could be marketed as a cure for insomnia.

      Chris - title noted - I got a lot of value out of Harry Potter and the League of Augsburg too.

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  3. I have steadfastly refused to have anything to do with Apple since we got our first Mac (or was it a Gravenstein orr Honey Crisp) at work and after typing up a needed document and hitting print I received an error saying (something like) "can't print this" and a button marked "OK?" I searched vain for a button saying "No, not OK" but my only options were to be co-opted into agreeing that it was ok and that I was happy to go to my meeting without the report, or pull the plug. Of course decades later I also gave up on Microsoft.

    Anyway, the point is, my wife having twisted my arm into an audible subscription last year, you can actually quit the subscription and stop taking a half price book every month. 14 fiction audiobooks later I'm still planning to do that, maybe next month....

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    1. That is the great catch, isn't it - I once joined the History Book Club, and got a couple of terrific bargains in the first couple of months, then spend the rest of the year forgetting to cancel the default choice, or picking the best of a bunch of terrible choices from the list offered. I still come across books in my collection, and I think, "why the blazes did I ever buy that?", but then I remember...

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  4. I like your approach - "start simple, and work up" - as it is what I tend to do... in my case though I start even simpler - I look for novels and films set in the period.. As to converting your files, loads of apps about to do it, but I think you can actually do it in iTunes - just "save as"??

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    1. Doesn't work on my version of iTunes - there is a menu option "convert to MP3" which had me quite excited for an instant, before the pop-up told me it couldn't convert protected files. I've looked at some apps - Wondershare was one - they make me nervous because they never discuss prices, and they don't tell you that the trial version only handles files up to 50Kb - well, maybe they do, but the description is translated from Chinese, and I can't understand most of it.

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    2. You could try it in Windows Audio... alternatively I've used this one in the past when ripping sound tracks from YouTube video's... https://www.onlinevideoconverter.com/convert-mp4-to-mp3

      Re. novels - this has good reviews:

      https://www.amazon.co.uk/Warwolf-Peasant-Chronicle-Thirty-Years/dp/1594160260

      ..and this

      https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adventures-Simpleton-Jacob-Christoffel-Grimmelshausen/dp/0826414826

      ...few more here:

      http://theminiaturespage.com/plus/msg.mv?id=163651

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    3. Thanks for these Steve - note that the iTunes files are M4P, not MP4 - MP4 would be a sensible sort of file, to use to convert...

      M4Ps are strictly verboten in most of the conversion tools I have, but I'm still looking. Apple must have put some heavy legal stuff out there.

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    4. I do loath people who seek to limit what you can do with material that you have paid good money for.. I'm not a fan of Amazon Kindle content for the same reason (though I now have a Kindle Library manager that strips out the proprietary gubbins)... just a thought but the easiest way to do it may be to burn the audio to a CD and then just re-rip it...

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    5. Apple are particularly bad for trying to do away with the great unifying, cross-brand standards - the USB connection standard was a terrific breakthrough, but now of course Apple and Sony have variation which will not fit other brands. In a roundabout way it reminds me of a time in the 1980s when I was involved in UK industry-wide collaborations of insurance companies - all to embrace and take advantage of new technologies (such as Viewdata!), to agree common standards which would allow intermediaries to run semi-computerised quotation services. It all worked swimmingly until the odd occasion when one of the participants would realise they could gain a competitive edge (for about 5 minutes) if they actually did NOT collaborate on some point. Very quickly, the entire initiative fell apart, since no-one trusted each other any more.

      Ah - happy days. Humans and greed - you cannae whack it, as we say in Scotland.

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    1. Well done, you (as they say on Facebook). Does it offer reasonable value? I hasten to add that i don't really care - as long as Amazon are making money...

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  6. Putting aside who I'm throwing my hard earned at, the average audio book is 10 / 12 hours long. At £7.99 where else would a senior citizen like myself get that kind of rock and roll entertainment.

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    1. Tricky - if things get busy, you'd have to employ someone to listen to it - you could have rooms full of guys with earbuds, listening to your books. This could be expensive.

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  7. Have Europes Tragedy - hard work only got about a quarter of the way through . Reading C.V.Wedgwood a first edition from a junk shop very cheap, bit better will try and finish it . The trouble with the Thirty Years War is it took a long time to fight ,Tony

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    1. Do you think they needed the 30 years, or could they have organised it more efficiently? I thought Europes Tragedy started off OK, but there's a cast of bloody thousands - I had to start writing notes, same as when I read Tolstoy - I'll go back to it. I've lost the notes anyway.

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